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​Are we still a party school?

Block Party gives the University an opportunity to consider its identity

A Virginia Magazine article titled “1982: The Rise and Fall of Easters” tells a brief history of revelry at the University. It states Easters festivities began as innocent late 19th century formal dances, with students “[pledging] that they would not attend the evening’s dance if they’d had a drink of alcohol after noon of that day.”

These social functions grew in size over the next hundred years. In 1939, students voted to give up their week of spring vacation, which coincided with Easters, so that they would not miss “the most enjoyable part of the year.” Historian Virginius Dabney would later describe the Easters weekends during the 1970s as celebrations in which “students and their dates wallowed about in mudholes, swilling grain alcohol drinks from large fruit juice cans.”

Since then-Dean of Students Robert Canevari called for an end to Easters in the fall of 1982, the University has struggled with its identity as a party school. Media sources such as Playboy Magazine, which ranked the University as the nation’s number one party school four years ago, and Rolling Stone, which published an erroneous and sensational account of a fraternity party sexual assault, have pushed the narrative that the University remains a party school.

Meanwhile, the administration has fought to emphasize that its educational offerings are superior to its social scene. In response to the Playboy rankings, the University responded with a statement that it is “far more important” for the university to be recognized for its academic qualities and the strength of its financial aid program. And following concerns about the potential for sexual assault at this year’s Block Party — an unsanctioned bacchanal which took place on Wertland Street last Saturday — the administration ramped up its alternative programming events by including a J. Cole concert that same night. With this in mind, we have to ask ourselves, do we still want to be a party school?

On one hand, we have held on to our party school identity. More than a third of undergraduates still belong to Greek organizations. While pressure from national sororities dampened the Boy’s Bid Night last year, students still celebrated, though the parties were diffused over multiple weekends instead of a single night. And securing a big-name rapper to perform at a concert isn’t exactly out of character for a party school. On the other hand, the numbers from this year’s Block Party may suggest a trend away from our party school identity: an estimated 4,000 students attended Block Party, a significant decrease from last year’s 6,000. There continues to be an active place for those who want to revel on the weekends, and the administration is taking real, if insufficient, steps to create a safer environment for students. But Block Party is just one night — safety risks don’t disappear after the first weekend before classes. If the University wants to maintain the brand of a “work hard, play hard” school, while working toward a high standard of safety throughout the year, we have a long way to go.