Party time in Iowa City


Clinton St. at night in downtown Iowa City. ~Photo by Robbie Lehman

A complex web of issues has evolved from the UI’s recent No. 9 party school ranking and changes to downtown bar laws.

By Robbie Lehman

Sitting at a booth in Donnelly’s Pub located in the downtown Iowa City pedestrian mall, Jordan Loperena has finished his chicken wings and pauses to think of an answer to the question: Why does the University of Iowa have a reputation as a “party school?”

Experts weigh in with opinions

Over the years, the University of Iowa has developed a status as one of the best learning institutions in the country. At the same time, however, the school that was established in 1847 has also come to be known as one of the top places for college students to party.

More specifically, the ninth best.

On August 2, the Princeton Review ranked the UI as the No. 9 Top American Party School for the 2010-11 school year.

This ranking has many students, faculty and administrators at the UI, not to mention other Iowa City residents and even Iowans around the state, wondering what exactly this ranking means.

UI President Sally Mason has taken a great concern in wanting to decrease this stereotype of her institution.

“Students don’t need to be tainted with a reputation…” Mason said in an interview with The Daily Iowan student newspaper in October. “When they go out on the job market, I don’t want students to have to answer questions, [like] “So what’s it really like being at a party school? And what was your participation in that party school?” That really shouldn’t be the issue.”

Should students be worried about the University of Iowa “tainting” their resume when they are seeking employment after graduation? Angi McKie, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Pomerantz Career Center, says no.

“Sure, we share the concern,” McKie said. “We don’t want employers certainly to have that reputation when they think of the University of Iowa. We want them to think of other things.”

The Pomerantz Career Center on the UI campus is a service that is dedicated to helping Hawkeye students with forming and conducting successful job and internship strategies. Its staff performs around 8,000 advising appointments per year, as well as arranging nearly 4,500 interviews for students.

“At this point in our outreach efforts with our employers, we have not had any employers bring up the fact the Iowa is ranked where it was on the Princeton survey,” McKie said. “It’s not to say that they don’t think about it or wonder, but it has not been verbalized to us by any employers at this point.

“Students should still take their behaviors carefully under consideration.”

McKie and her co-workers meet regularly with employers looking to tap into the UI’s market of job-seekers.

“When we have our staff meeting with employers, maybe it just didn’t come up in the context of the conversation, hard to say,” McKie said. “Oftentimes they’re there talking about our services and what we could offer to them as they try to work through their recruitment plans and their campus recruiting strategy.”

It’s all about the alcohol

There is no doubt that alcohol is at the center of the party school reputation, no matter what institution is being discussed. The UI Student Government has taken on the responsibility of cleaning up the “party school” image, said its President, senior John Rigby.

“I know some people are kind of discouraged by seeing that party ranking because they think it kind of taints your college experience,” Rigby said. “That’s not always the case. That’s unfortunate because there’s a small margin of students that do go to the University of Iowa just to experience the social aspect of it.”

Rigby, 21, is a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is fully aware that the UI and Iowa City have specific identities. He and his UISG staff frequently meet with UI President Sally Mason and her staff to discuss campus initiatives and issues, including underage drinking and non-alcoholic social activities for UI students. Rigby said that the party school ranking was a focal point of talks in August, just as the 21-vote has largely been throughout the fall semester.

There certainly is a connection between the issues, Rigby said.

After the November 2 vote approved the 21-only law for the next two years, Rigby noticed the extremely negative response by his student peers. This was not only from speaking with students but also through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

There were even threats of transfer, he said. This reaction has sparked him to work even harder at serving his students and their needs at the UI and in the Iowa City community.

“I think it’s just making sure that we have that student energy that’s come in the aftermath of this but directing it towards positive solutions or alternatives,” Rigby said. “We need to talk with the city and the administration, and think of how we can make downtown attractive to the underage crowd.”

How far does the reputation reach?

Those graduating from the UI and the stigma placed on them is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the high school seniors around the country who are searching for a university to attend. Many questions arise from this issue: Are high school students aware that Iowa is labeled a “party school?” Is it a positive or negative when attracting new students?

Loperena, 22, is a native of Lake Zurich, Illinois. He said he paid no attention whatsoever of college party rankings when searching for a school to attend.

“It’s something that I didn’t necessarily need or require, but was something kind of cool,” Loperena said about a college with a thriving party scene. “[Iowa] seemed like a pretty Big Ten campus, not that far from home, Big Ten athletics and stuff like that. That’s really what got me excited to come to Iowa. [The party atmosphere] had zero effect or weight on my decision.”

Rigby agreed that educating new students on alcohol awareness was a top priority with his staff and UI officials.

“When you’re a first year student, you’re not aware. You come from high school where some students drink in high school and some students don’t. Here, especially when you’re a first year student, it seems like it’s a constant temptation that you have to meet,” Rigby said.

“I think it’s our responsibility to encourage safe drinking but also to encourage first year students to fourth year students that there are other things to do, whether it’s other services or other programs at the IMU or downtown.”

A 2010 graduate, Loperena has sat through his fair share of interviews before landing a job this fall. The topic of the UI’s reputation as a party school never came up, not once, he said.

Is there hope for the future?

Loperena doesn’t deny that he spent a fair portion of his college career in downtown Iowa City. He has many memories of socializing with friends at bars and other parties. It’s hard for him to imagine how his UI experience would be different if he was an incoming freshman this year , right in the middle of this image crisis.

He stated that social scene at the UI and downtown Iowa City hasn’t been the same since the 21-only law passed. With the party school ranking on UI officials’ minds now too, many students feel like the fun is being sucked out of their college experience as the UI and Iowa City plan initiatives toward decreasing their party reputations.

Will the bond between Iowa students and UI and City officials ever be repaired? Loperena unfortunately does not have an answer to this question.


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