Party Gone Out of Bounds? Check the Dance Floor, Students Say

January 07, 2009

Dirty dancing and too many male guests are better indicators of potential danger at a college party than whether people there are drunk, according to a survey of about 300 Midwestern college students.

Chadwick Menning, an associate professor of sociology at Ball State University, asked respondents to name signals that make women feel unsafe at a party. They cited such things as suggestive dancing and and a disproportionately high number of men. But they did not mention alcohol, Mr. Menning said.

“Drinking is considered normal at college parties, and that hasn’t changed in decades,” he said in a Ball State news release. “Students expect to drink lots of alcohol at both Greek and non-Greek parties. Yet they do look for secondary traits that may signal that there could be danger.”

The study, “Unsafe at Any House?” is to be published in the October issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Mr. Menning pointed out that women who attend parties centered on drinking put themselves at risk of sexual assault, which he said ranks as “their biggest fear, even bigger than death.” So the students’ lack of concern about alcohol is noteworthy, he said, particularly given the efforts by college administrators to educate young people about the dangers of binge drinking.

The study’s findings, he said, suggest that rape-prevention educators should teach students to look for warning signs and to understand how a party atmosphere can affect individual behavior. —Don Troop

Update (1/8): Because of incorrect information provided by Ball State University, this article originally stated erroneously that the researcher had found that messy bathrooms were among a list of items that made students feel unsafe at parties. That finding was from another study by a different scholar, and it has been removed from this article.