Restricted bar openings fail to keep revelers from early intoxication
CHAMPAIGN – For some, Unofficial St. Patrick's Day on the University of Illinois campus is one of the best parties of the year.
Throngs of green-clad students filled the streets on Friday morning, happily hopping from house party to bar and back. Some started the drinking before sunrise, and many ended it well after sunset. Classes became secondary, beer became green and Green Street became a hazardous place to drive.
For UI senior Jenna Kolditz, the celebration is one of her favorite experiences of her college years.
"It's really just a good time to spend with lots of friends," she said. "It's a very UI thing. ... We'll always be able to say 'Do you remember Unofficial?'"
For Dorothy Chrisagis, who has lived in a Campustown-area house for more than 50 years, it's nothing short of a disaster in the making.
Around her neighborhood, several parties blasted music and filled nearby frontyards, and had for hours, she said in a phone interview in the early afternoon. "This morning I thought, 'Oh, you're starting already,'" she said. "This is the first time we've had them in our neighborhood, I think it's because they won't let them in the bars until 11 o'clock today."
Both Champaign and Urbana forbade Campustown bars to serve alcohol until 11 a.m. Friday.
Skip Frost, the lieutenant in charge of the patrol division for the UI police, said Friday afternoon it was too early to know how the day would end up in terms of arrests, drunkenness and crime, but that an increased amount of house parties "absolutely has been an issue," he said. "As the day goes along, I'm wondering if (making the bars open later) didn't just change the timetable a little bit."
Frost said uniformed and plainclothes police presence was stepped up and "they'll be running bar details throughout the day to make sure nobody underage is being served."
At a Green Street house, a couple dozen students clustered outside. Posted on the porch, a sign: "U Honk, We Drink." Most are seniors, and some have come from out-of-town schools, like Illinois State University.
Senior Laura Pnewski planned to attend her Friday class with some of the other partygoers, but the teacher canceled it.
At Firehaus on campus, the bar was decorated in green, and an Irish bluegrass band, Fresh Fish, played. "At 11 a.m., it was, like, swamped," said server Lavang Nguyen. "Normally we're not busy at all during the day."
Not all UI students were skipping classes, however, and not all teachers were canceling them.
In a mass e-mail from the UI Office of the Provost, teachers were encouraged to stick to their schedules, but to talk with students beforehand about their behavior on "Unofficial."
"Students can be asked to leave the classroom," the mass e-mail stated. "However, if circumstances suggest that a confrontation is best avoided, a complaint can (be) filed with the Office of Student Conflict Resolution once class has been dismissed."
Professor Spencer Schaffner held his English class for future teachers Friday afternoon. Before class, he said, "I don't know if it'll be an atmosphere where discussion will be a good thing or if people will be lying on the floor."
Afterward, he wrote in an e-mail, "My class (though poorly attended) proved a great opportunity for discussing social disruption on campus – a theme that relates directly to the topic of the course."
Sophomore James Cho was one person who attended classes today – though not all of them were his own, he said. He said he started drinking around 8:30 a.m. and wanted "to experience class absolutely intoxicated," he said. Teachers "know it's Unofficial, they're expecting that."
"You don't even have to be drinking; everyone's in a good mood," said his friend Christina Byrne. "It's a good break from being stressed-out, especially with midterms" coming.
Professor Robert Markley compared the event to his time as guest faculty at Tulane University in New Orleans. "It's not nearly as bad (at the UI) as trying to teach during Mardi Gras week in New Orleans," he said.
From the police perspective, though, the scene is still far from ideal.
"Campustown currently is an absolute mess," Frost said. "You can see all the beer cans, all the bottles. ... There is vomit in the streets."