Today’s “party school” represents a unique environment that nurtures and rewards extreme drinking, which in turn increases the risks of victimization and normalizes bad behavior of students who are intoxicated, a new book by a West Virginia University professor finds.

Karen Weiss, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, authored “Party School: Campus, Crime and Community” using electronic survey data collected between 2009 and 2010.

The book, a case study of a large American public university with a big sports program and active Greek life, examines the culture from the perspective of college students.

Weiss will lead a discussion on the book and her findings at the Oct. 28 Social Science Café meeting. The 5:30 p.m. discussion, which is free and open to the public, will be at Black Bear Evansdale, 3119 University Ave. Suite B.

“What was going on in the secret subculture of the campus was only known to the students,” she said. “Only a small percentage is getting to police. I wanted to capture that phenomenon.

“Primarily what was capturing my attention was how entertained they all seemed by the (culture). There didn’t seem to be any shame.”

Intoxication crime, Weiss said, has led to a new normal on the party college campus, where “it almost seems OK when you’re drunk.”

The anonymous survey approach, she added, allows the reader to see from the student perspective what motivates them, why so many students seem to voluntarily place themselves at risk, why so few crimes are reported to police and why a number of victims tend to shrug off their injuries and other negative consequences as the acceptable cost of admission to a party.

For the book Weiss surveyed the traditional student population, students ranging in age from 18 to 24 years old. The original sample was 800 students and focused on crime victimization. But when Weiss noticed a connection to intoxication, she said she reworked a follow-up survey to address the correlation.

What she and her team found:

• 14 percent of students surveyed were extreme partiers
• 21 percent were non-partiers
• 25 were considered light partiers
• 40 percent were heavy partiers

The categories were broken down by the number of days per week a student drank, the number of drinks they had per occasion and whether they used drugs. Extreme partiers were identified as students who had nine or more drinks in one sitting, four or more days a week. They also used drugs, including marijuana, a couple of times a month.

The survey responses, Weiss said, uncovered a ripple effect of “secondary harms” from the partying that she said filters down to non-partiers and residents of the community. Students who don’t subscribe to the party culture are often left to rearrange their lives to accommodate that subculture.

“Even if you go to the school (but don’t subscribe to the behavior) we’re all impacted by it,” she said.

Among non-partier survey participants, Weiss said she encountered a frustration and resignation. “They feel like if they say anything, they will be seen as being anti-student, or lacking school spirit.”

Although the book is mostly descriptive, offering readers insight into the party culture, Weiss said she does offer some examples of programs some schools have implemented to promote healthy changes among students.

Weiss’ book is available for purchase through a number of book retailers, including Barnes and Noble and

A tenured professor in the department of sociology and anthropology, Weiss teaches courses in the areas of crime, victimization and data analysis. She earned her master’s degree and doctorate in sociology from Stony Brook University and a master’s degree in women studies from San Francisco State University.

Her research on sexual victimization has been published in Theoretical Criminology, Violence against Women, Men and Masculinities, Feminist Criminology, and Violence and Victims journals. Her current research examines fighting, peer harassment and bystander non-intervention.

For more information about “Party School: Crimes, Campus and Community,” contact Karen Weiss at or (304) 293-8821.

Social Science Café sessions last roughly an hour and usually involve one person giving a brief discussion on a social issue or academic topic, followed by plenty of time for questions and open conversation. All events are free and open to the public. The goals are to promote intellectual curiosity, encourage vigorous discussion of social issues, and build a sense of community among the diverse faculty, students and Morgantown residents.

For more information on Social Science Café, contact Joshua Woods at or (304) 293-8843.



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.