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The Evolution Of Partying: Penn State From The 1980s To Now

On a typical Friday night, Penn Staters have three choices: frats, bars, or apartment/house parties. These staples remained in the partying scene over the years, but a few things have changed since our parents were in college. Three alumni told us what it was like to party here in Happy Valley in the 1980s.

We already told you how tailgating changed over the years, and in many cases it was similar to our modern Saturday traditions. But in terms of the regular weekend party scene, one completely different aspect landmarked the 1980s: dorm parties.

Today, most students who live on campus are freshmen or sophomores, and moving off campus for even sophomore year is becoming more common. Most dorm drinking is restricted to pregaming with a few friends and a few shots. After a half hour, you’re on your way to another party.

In the ’70s and ’80s, it wasn’t so taboo to live on campus through your junior year. At the time, Penn State didn’t have dry campus regulations, so dorm parties and keggers riddled East Halls and even spilled into other residential areas.

Party hosts toured their floor beforehand, knocking on doors asking their neighbors to chip in a few dollars for the keg. A run-of-the-mill dorm room could turn into the life of the party when students invited friends from other buildings, and party-goers could travel from dorm to dorm or into the study lounge while drinking with no trouble as long as they didn’t loiter in the hallway. Sometimes even the RAs chipped in for the keg!

One alum’s floor even started a Wednesday night keg tradition — they drank and blared music from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the RA finally decided to enforce “quiet hours.” Two guys from Latrobe, PA living on the same floor showed up with more than 100 cases of Rolling Rock (their hometown beer) on move-in day. Legend has it they partied with it every night, shouting the “Latrobe Yell” out their windows. The stockpile was gone by Halloween.

Of course, the parties weren’t restricted to keggers all the time. Some people would put a plastic bag inside a metal trashcan and fill it with grain alcohol and fruit punch (I guess this is the early version of jungle juice.) “I thought I’d be smart, not drink too much and just eat the fruit floating in the punch,” one alum said, recalling her first experience with this concoction. “Joke was on me. I ended up walking around all 4 towers twice before I could figure out which door in those identical 4 towers was mine.”

Another alum told us even quiet North Halls turned up at one time. “The study hall transformed into a dimly lit, packed like sardines room where, once in the door, you lost all sense of spatial orientation for sheer volume of bodies around you,” she said. “The music was loud, the food consisted of chips and pretzels which quickly ran out, you couldn’t find anyone, it was beyond hot, there was no room to dance, and people got sick in the stairwells.” 1980s North Halls supplemental housing sounds a lot like a night in frat land today.

Sometimes guys floors expanded their horizons beyond the traditional partying options and tried new activities like hall surfing. With towels against their doors, the guys flooded the hallway with water and greased the floors with shampoo and shaving cream. Each person would get a running start and then dive head first down the hall. Usually the fun ended when someone hit his head on the metal doors at the end of the hall.

Even frats seem like they were more enjoyable in the 1980s. Some hosted bonfires outside with live bands playing and kegs on flatbed trucks. Today, it’s a struggle just to find fresh air at a frat party, much less cold beer. Chariot races were also common, as frats constructed their own chariots, dressed up in togas, and raced down frat row.

The bar scene was similar to today, although underage drinking was easier and thus much more common. People shared their IDs freely and often got around carding just by getting to the bar early. Needless to say, this law isn’t quite so easy to bypass today.

We have Movin’ On every year now, and of course you can look forward to Arts Fest or State Patty’s Day, but the 1980s hosted a wide array of community events that anyone could take part(y) in. Many students attended an annual regatta at Bald Eagle State Park. Cars were checked for alcohol, but apparently Jell-O shots didn’t make the banned list. If it rained, students transformed this event into a slip ‘n’ slide through the mud.

Teams also registered for the annual Phi Psi 500 fundraiser, a race through some of the bars downtown. To participate, you ran to each bar, took a shot or drank a beer, then ran to the next one. Some people dressed up and raced, but even more simply watched the race unfold and enjoyed a few drinks while cheering for the participants. Alas, the public drunkenness of spectators ultimately caused the fundraiser’s demise in the late ’80s.

A lot has changed in the Penn State partying world since the 1980s (and not necessarily for the better). However, one thing remains clear: Penn Staters party unlike anyone else.

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About the Author

Robbie Rockwell

Robbie is a sophomore from Frederick, Maryland majoring in History and minoring in Spanish. He was born and raised a Penn Stater and cares way too much about Penn State football. He's also die hard Pittsburgh sports fan despite living in Maryland. In his free time he enjoys watching basically any sport and loves to play soccer.


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