It’s a Party in the USA

It’s A Party in the USA: Party Culture in American Colleges and Their Larger Social Connections 

By Selina Zheng

It’s undeniable that party culture is a predominant aspect of college life. Of course, because every individual college student is different, the pressure of party culture manifests and is accepted or rejected in different ways. I interviewed six different students in order to explore the relationship between college party culture and pre-existing social dynamics. I wanted to know if one influenced the other, and if so, in what way. Because parties are so important to the college social scene, I wanted to know if parties reflected typical social dynamics. It is no secret that identity is fluid and mutable. There is no such thing as a permanent sense of the self. Thus, in the context of a college party environment, do people maintain their identities, or adopt different ones? 

The scope of this project covered both personal and interpersonal relationships due to or relating to parties. It explored what causes certain groups to congregate together and why. Additionally, it will also focus on how parties affect someone individualistically, such as how they perceive themselves, which will in turn impact the way they interact with others. My criteria for participants were, at baseline, people who hosted or attended college parties. Anyone who attends parties is eligible to participate, but primary focus will be given to those with attendance of 3+ parties. 

I began my interview with a question that was meant to probe my participant’s personality and also encourage the interviewee to be comfortable, which was “What is your MBTI?” One person was an ENTJ, one was an ISFJ, one was an INTJ, one was an ISTJ, one was an ENFJ, and one was an INFP. As is evident from the responses, there was a wide range of personality types. Surprisingly, there were a greater number of introverts than extroverts, though parties seem to be more suitable for people who are actively refreshed by social interaction. This question, though helpful, was taken into lesser consideration than the other questions in the interview because MBTI is understood to be pseudo-science. It was followed up by questioning participants on their traits, and then the traits of their friends to gain a better understanding of their ‘identity’. Students commonly struggled to describe themselves. There wasn’t a strong common theme between their answers. When asked to describe their friends, students most commonly said that they were funny. 

The next question further probed students’ identities and changes to it, asking if they dressed up for parties. Most students said yes, with only one no and one semi-no (the student replied yes and no). Many described dressing up as an elevated version of their casual look. One participant said that he wore a “half-buttoned up shirt and jeans” for a party, but that he “was a very modest man in his daily attire”. Another participant said that she “was more scandalous when she went to a party.” 

Most students said that they tended to stick with their friends, suggesting that new interactions weren’t being formed at parties. One student notably said that he had, “no desire to talk to random strangers.” However, the second largest category of students qualified their claims of remaining with their friends by adding that they would move towards people they were attracted to. Party scenes appear to primarily gear towards romantic interaction or current friendships rather than creating new platonic relationships. This is further substantiated by most participants agreeing that they did not continue contact with the few friendships formed at parties. However, not a single participant felt that they had internal criteria when interacting with new people at a party. Notably, one participant said that they gravitated towards other queer people of color because they felt most comfortable with their peers compared to others.

Beach Party

Participants all agreed that they met people they wouldn’t normally meet at a party, but only two participants had acquaintances they made at a party reappear in their lives. These two participants shared the feeling that once they had met someone, they kept seeing them again at places the participants frequented where they never saw them before. 

All participants have described feeling uncomfortable at a party before. The main reason was creepy men, with many participants describing scenarios where they felt endangered or otherwise threatened by their behavior. Specifically, one participant said that she “was separated from [her] friends…by a 26-year-old man,” which is a very dangerous scenario. One participant mentioned feeling uncomfortable if the party was too white, similar to an answer another participant gave to a previous question. Another cited being too drunk. The singular participant who said that their only uncomfortable experience at a party was the environment (being too warm, feeling too crowded, etc.) also mentioned that they had a solid group of friends who kept them feeling safe. 

Most participants had different answers for their favorite party, but they all mentioned specific places and names rather than types of parties. They also said yes to the possibility of it being a repeated experience. When questioned about their least favorite parties, most reasons were tied to other people. Again, multiple participants cited creepy men for their uncomfortable experiences. One participant recalled her least favorite party being one where all of her friends left her behind to enter a bar on their own without her. Another participant said that parties were generally too hot (temperature-wise). Finally, one participant disliked a party because they felt that they couldn’t connect to anyone at the party. This participant also said that this was a “niche, alt” party and that certain individuals were choosing poverty, as in treating poverty like a costume they could take on or off. They said that the entire demographic of the party was very different from them in terms of class and race differences, as well as interests. Because of this, they were unable to talk to anyone. 

Participants also had different answers for the most interesting things that happened to them at parties. One said that they met a friend’s sister while black-out drunk. Two mentioned kissing people, especially those they didn’t expect to. One said that people were more willing to share secrets. Another reported that a boy projectile vomited 5 feet after getting drunk. One participant shared that they “connected with someone on a level [they] never had before”. They ended up talking about existential dilemmas. 

Many participants shared a similar desire for good music as one of their criteria for good parties. Other participants wanted an open bar. One participant enjoyed parties that she didn’t have to pay for. Two participants focused on the social aspect. They wanted to meet people who were engaged and wanted to have a conversation. Recalling responses to an earlier question about whether or not participants tended to meet new people and keep in touch with them, these responses may show a desire for further platonic connection at parties, but there may be a hurdle in the way. 

Mausoleum Halloween Party

Because these interviews were limited to a total of six participants, they do not encompass a full and comprehensive view of the college experience. However, they may shed insight into social dynamics at college parties. Interestingly enough, most students don’t appear to adopt a persona for college parties. In fact, rather than treating parties as a way to meet new people, many seemed to stick with their friends. This might provide a potential explanation for why an overwhelming majority of my interviewees stated that they were introverts, even though they partied. If most people tended to stay with their friends rather than introduce themselves to others, they may still hold onto introverted tendencies while being social because these are interactions that they are familiar with and comfortable with. 

Parties also appear to maintain the dynamics of normal life, but perhaps to a greater degree. For example, participants who were mainly minorities felt uncomfortable in scenarios where they felt excluded or endangered, specifically by non-minorities or people with more social capital, such as men. 

Most participants had similar criteria for what they enjoyed at parties, even though they all listed different parties as their favorite, raising the possibility of a large overlap between college parties. This is logical because college students do not have the funding or means to be extremely creative. Most participants focused on music as a major factor in enjoying a party.