describe pic here

Illustration by Lauren Adams

Party Foul

Published August 15, 2022

How OU fell from top party school rankings

By Hannah Campbell | Projects Editor

When many students tell friends or family members they are attending Ohio University, they hear the same assumptions: the main one being, “Oh, that is such a party school.” It can be from anyone at any age, and the reputation lives on.

OU reigned supreme with its party status for many years. In 2011, the Princeton Review named it America’s #1 party school for the year. In 2015, Playboy named it the nation’s best party school. Sites like Brobible have even outlined “10 reasons why Ohio University is the best party school in the United States.”

One contributing factor to how extreme OU’s image looked to the outside was the history of the “Palmer Fest” block-party. In 2009, the party was described as a “near-riot” due to the number of students participating in mobbing and setting fires to furniture, according to 10WBNS. The crazed behavior was a common thread throughout many fests and events put on by OU students.

Tom Pyle, Athens Police Department chief of police, described couch burning as a “symptom of a greater disease,” representing the end to an out-of-control party. He said the department has treated the issue of those fires as such.

“When it comes to issues like fests and couch burnings, we’ll let you do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s legal,” Pyle said. “Once it becomes (illegal), we’re going to deal with it very swiftly.”

Now, OU is not even ranking in the top 10 party school lists.

In 2021, Newsweek ranked OU as #12 on a list of top school in the country, with Tulane as the #1 party school. Niche ranked Tulane as the top party school of 2022, with OU taking the #12 as well. Nearby schools such as Pennsylvania State University and West Virginia University still rank above OU.

Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said the university has not ranked as a top party school in recent years. She also said that change is caused by the current population of students.

“Our students are who shape the culture on our campus,” Leatherwood said. “The narrative is changing here because it’s being driven by the students. Generation Z, they typically tend to focus on success and they are focused on their education and the value of their degree in the long term.”

Leatherwood also contributed these findings to the Alcohol Edu Survey offered through Student Affairs. A required survey for freshmen and juniors, the survey revealed the majority of OU students are in the healthy majority when it comes to drug and alcohol use.

According to the survey, about 73% of OU students drink zero to two times per week. 70% of students also reported they have not allowed alcohol use to interfere with their academic performance.

Accordingly, Pyle acknowledged that OU has not experienced many fires as a result from a party since the 2010 Palmer Fest. However, he said the school’s actions did not have any impact, rather, the shift came as a result of APD’s new approach to parties over the past 10 years.

“We completely impacted the party culture,” Pyle said. “We successfully converted (those parties) from nighttime events, which carried a lot of anonymity. There’s a lot of anonymity and darkness when you cannot be seen.”

Pyle also said the city of Athens has decriminalized many laws surrounding noise and nuisance in hopes to change the party atmosphere with students.

“College students want to have a party,” Pyle said. “(The police department has) always understood that, so making it highly illegal to do so just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Despite the falling status, a school with a party reputation like OU’s can be intimidating for students and parents.

Cristina Formichelli, a 2022 alumna, worked as a Bobcat Student Orientation (BSO) leader for three years, with her first year as a family and guest orientation leader. During the sessions, attendees listened to presentations about academic and campus life and asked questions to the BSO leaders.

Formichelli said she would receive questions about OU’s party reputation by both parents and students. She said she learned in an orientation leader training class how to answer awkward questions like those, and she took an honest approach to doing so.

“We say ‘college is college,'” Formichelli said. “Anywhere you go, there is going to be someone doing something maybe they shouldn’t, but it is up to your students to make the right choices for them.’”

While she would be honest and guide the students and their parents in their knowledge of the university, she said ultimately any college could be a “party school” and her job is not to tell students what to do with their free time on campus.

“It’s not really our place to do that,” Formichelli said. “Our place is to acclimate them to the university and its resources and its environment and answer any questions we can. We are not going to really sway anyone in either direction.”

The party scene and its reputation at OU does not just affect the school and its students. With OU’s campus being so close to the city of Athens, the party image has heavily affected how people perceive the entire city and its residents.

Bozeman Koonce, a junior studying geography, said he has lived in Athens almost his entire life. In a previous Post report, Koonce said the massive amount of partying he saw on Court Street made him upset because of how integrated the city was into his life.

“It’s just where I have grown up,” Koonce said. “I have seen so much (partying) that it just no longer meets anything extra.”

Koonce also said there is a divide between OU students and Athens residents, but he appreciates the community of Athens and could not imagine going to school anywhere else.

“I absolutely love the idea of a small college town,” Koonce said, “So many people have asked me ‘What are things to do in Athens over the weekend?’ and I can name about five to 10 different things right off the top of my head.”

As Koonce believes the partying image affects Athens, Pyle agreed the former frequenting parties definitely impacted peoples’ perception of the city and OU. He said the consistent amount of activity of students, on-campus and off-campus, alone influenced both Athens citizens and outside observers.

Leatherwood said there are many more aspects of OU that get overshadowed by its social notoriety. Some of which include the highly rated journalism program, the sports administration program and housing the largest medical college in the state of Ohio.

Despite the party scene, Leatherwood emphasized how easy it is for students to become involved on campus and find what they are interested in.

“We have an amazing amount of student organizations and programs for students to get involved with,” Leatherwood said. “There are a lot of opportunities for students to get involved socially, academically and things that will help them focus on growing into their career.”

As the party reputation may continue to fall, Leatherwood said there is much more to OU besides that culture and students are so committed to the academic experience when they arrive.

“Keeping in mind all of the students and alumni that we have all over the world who are making tremendous contributions to our society, ” Leatherwood said. “That is the primary focus and what we should be focused on as opposed to the actions of a few people who are trying to continue the narrative that has really not been our focus for a long time now.”

AUTHOR: Hannah Campbell
EDITOR: Alex Imwalle
COPY EDITOR: Kayla Bennett
ILLUSTRATION: Trevor Brighton