Union terrace parties revived after rocky ending 15 years ago

Tom Barton

In today’s atmosphere of heightened awareness of the effects of alcohol abuse, many students might have a hard time imagining university-sanctioned parties, complete with alcohol, being held right on campus.

However, during the 1980s, such parties existed, with the approval of the university. Today, terrace parties are back, but without the alcohol.

The Maintenance Shop, located in the Memorial Union, held parties on the MU terrace on Fridays before home football games from 1982 to 1988.

The parties provided food and entertainment and alcohol was sold, said Kathy Svec, marketing coordinator for the Memorial Union.

Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Hill said the parties were very successful and well-attended, but had to be stopped because the alcohol being provided at the parties contributed to dangerous and inappropriate student behavior.

“Things got out of control at the parties over people’s behavior due to alcohol,” Hill said.

However, Svec said the reason for ending the parties was not because of students behavior, but because of the decision by the U.S. Congress to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21.

“[The change] automatically eliminated about 75 percent of the students able to come,” Svec said. “Before then, virtually everyone on campus was able to come.”

She said the Memorial Union tried to keep students who became too young to drink involved while allowing students of a legal age to continue drinking.

Svec said they tried this by putting those not of age on the upper part of the terrace and having those of age in the middle of the terrace.

“It just didn’t work because things were so segregated. It took the wind out of the event,” Svec said.

Since 1997, students have been discussing the possibility of reviving the parties, Hill said.

He said during these discussions, students said they wanted to see the parties revived because they were a successful, well-attended event that were great opportunities for people on campus to socialize.

Hill said he welcomed the possibility of reviving the parties and said he understood why students wanted to see them revived, but said he couldn’t sanction such an event unless it were alcohol-free.

“I think the goal of the parties to bring people together on campus and have fun is a good idea, but it also needs to be done in a safe environment. For that to happen I told students the only way the Student Affairs Office would help to revive the parties is if they are dry,” Hill said.

This summer was the only time a student approached Hill with the proposal to revive the parties, but to have them be completely dry, he said.

Michael McCoy, Student Union Board president, was the one who approached Hill.

“I saw [reviving the parties] as an opportunity to bring in a fun, safe environment for students, faculty and staff,” McCoy said.

He said he wanted to move away from the alcohol-centered atmosphere of past terrace parties.

However, alcohol can be purchased at the M-Shop during the terrace parties. McCoy said the M-Shop is a different venue and has different goals than the terrace parties, which justifies selling alcohol in one and not at the other.

“The M-Shop is different in that it’s an indoor restaurant-type of venue that provides live entertainment, whereas the terrace parties are an outdoor venue that focus more on bringing people together and not as much on constantly providing that live entertainment,” McCoy said. “Also, we want to keep the tradition of the M-Shop intact and whether you agree or disagree with alcohol being provided there, it is definitely a part of the M-Shop environment.”

Svec said the MU tried initially to conduct the parties without alcohol, but the parties could not be rejuvenated and ended in the fall of 1988.

“Alcohol had been an integral part of the event and when the rules changed, the event changed,” Svec said. “It was the combination of listening to music and drinking beer that was the essence of the event, and when you changed one of the ingredients, it lost its appeal.”

She said these revived parties will be an experiment.

“It has been 15 years since the last party, and among currently enrolled students, probably no one remembers what they used to be like,” Svec said. “We hope since many students don’t remember, that they will be more receptive to them.”

The MU, Student Union Board, Government of the Student Body and the Student Affairs Office sponsored the first terrace party Sept. 12 and will sponsor a second terrace party on October 3 as part of the Memorial Union’s 75th anniversary.

The party will take place on the terrace from 5—7 p.m. The M-Shop will also be open to students and visitors.

Food, non-alcoholic beverages and entertainment will be provided; there will be no cost to students to attend.