Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

January 5, 2009

College students believe that suggestive dancing and too many male guests are more accurate signs of a potentially dangerous party than the amount of alcohol consumed, a new study from Ball State University indicates.

A survey of about 300 students from Midwestern colleges and universities found male and female college students identified different signals that a particular party may be potentially dangerous, but drinking was not one of them.

"Unsafe at any House" is an examination by Chad Menning, a Ball State sociology professor of the students' perceptions about parties conducted at fraternities and other locations. Ball State students were not part of the survey.

"Drinking is considered normal at college parties, and that hasn't changed in decades," Menning said. "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."

Menning pointed out that males found parties with a high number of other males as compared to females problematic, leading to potential physical confrontations.

"When women go to a party with the music blaring and people are dancing, they may feel in danger when, in order to talk to a male partygoer, they have to go to a secluded, quiet area," he said.

However, national research continues to show that the greatest risk to personal safety may come from excessive alcohol consumption, which has been linked to sexual assaults and fights.

Menning said it is noteworthy that this lack of concern about alcohol persists in spite of intensive efforts by college administrators to increase awareness about sexual assault and the dangers of intoxication.

"Women rank rape as their biggest fear, even bigger than death," he said. "However, attending parties that are centered on drinking puts them at risk for sexual assault."

Findings from the study suggest that acquaintance rape prevention and associated education efforts could be enhanced by highlighting the importance of warning signs, including those that students do not currently take into account, and the effects of the party atmosphere on individual behavior, Menning said.

"Despite all the danger signals, students still go to parties," he said. "Many are on their own for the first time and may want to walk on the dangerous side for a time."