Not everyone drinks on Unofficial

URBANA — Students seeking altered states of mind but who aren't exactly the keg-stand sort still had an opportunity to chill out with friends on Unofficial St. Patrick's Day.

Among the many non-alcoholic events happening on campus Friday was a workshop to make a brain machine with Allen Hall's guest-in-resident Mitch Altman, the guy who invented the TV-B-GONE, which allows people to turn off televisions in public places.

The event promised attendees would "get altered states of consciousness and hallucinate beautiful colors and patterns with this microcontroller-driven sound and light device."

If that didn't bring out the crowd of non-drinkers, the filmfest at Newman Hall did. Or comedian Sheng Wang's show at the Illini Union. Or the Upper Room prayer service.

Or perhaps the laundry rooms in the dorms did, with all the open washers and dryers.

If you were in Campustown on Friday, it may have seemed as if everyone was there to celebrate Unofficial. But are there students who don't participate?

"Yes, absolutely!" said Tolu Taiwo, a student and president of the Illini Union Board, which organizes activities at the Union.

On Friday, Cameron Nations, a senior English major, took a Latin quiz at 1 p.m. and planned to work that evening at a local grocery store. He spent part of the afternoon at the courtyard in the Illini Union.

Nations estimated at least half of the student population does not participate in Unofficial. He theorized that students who do participate travel in groups and tend to be loud, so there appear to be more drinkers than there are. And non-UI students come in from out of town to participate, he said.

"There's a lot more (non-participants) than people think. They're just not out and about," said Ty Nafziger, a 20-year-old junior who said he's waiting to drink until he's 21 years old. For those who don't participate, they see Unofficial as a time for binge drinking or drinking to get drunk — "and that's just not something they do," he said.

Nafziger, president of the student organization Illini Life Student Fellowship, said the group on Friday would hold a regularly scheduled event called the Upper Room, an evening of prayer and worship. They planned to pray for people to be safe and for God to protect those out partying on Friday, he said.

Some university residence halls hosted board game parties, plugged in the karaoke machine and served non-alcoholic drinks.

"We do provide some programming, but the big thing is on keeping residents safe," said Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing for marketing.

At Presby Hall, a private, certified residence hall affiliated with the McKinley Foundation, there was an Unofficial alternative party from 6 p.m. until midnight where students were invited to play video games, eat free food, learn how to make their own ice cream and even learn how to make a pillow.

At Newman Hall's filmfest, organizers handed out raffle prizes, including gift cards to restaurants on campus and Illini tickets.

"We want to provide an environment that's safe for students and give them an option today to do something else. Every year we provide an alternative activity," said Mary Kate Norton, resident director at Newman Hall.

Greg Damhorst, who's in his second year in the UI's M.D.-Ph.D. program, has spent six years on campus, including his undergraduate years.

Not once has he celebrated Unofficial.

"I've never been a binge drinker," he said. "I'm not opposed to alcohol. I think (Unofficial) is kind of ridiculous."

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Sid Saltfork wrote on March 03, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Sounds like they had a ball.  The picture says a thousand words. The "altered states of consciousness" from a machine would have been great in my student days.  All we had were lava lamps, disco balls, and bongs.

sameeker wrote on March 03, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Why are comments allowed on this story but not the other one about how the students are being harassed for kickin up their heels a little?