Party Tent!(?)

By Paul A. Djupe

[photo credit: THE Lissie Obrecht]

Party spaces have gotten extensive coverage from 127’ers, highlighting the exclusive control by certain groups, the “truth about the Sunnies,” and how they contribute to lost things, in addition to posts about binge drinking. While many students are comfortable with Denison’s party culture, a consistent theme is that a minority controls access to it and various sort of minority groups are uncomfortable with it. On its face, it seems the most obvious solution is to democratize party culture – spread control, open up access.


We’re so on top of things at 127 that we asked student feelings toward the party tent in our October 2018 survey using the “feeling thermometer” format – on a scale of 0-100 where 0 is cold (negative) and 100 is warm (positive). The results below suggest that opinions are all over the place with lots giving us a shrug (50). I see some determined opposition in there pegged at 0. The average is 40. I think we all expect that those whose party cultural authority is threatened would express the most negative feelings. Let’s see.

I’d think that freshmen would, in some ways, have the most to gain from democratized party culture and seniors and greeks would suffer the most. However, a much larger number of first year students expressed negative feelings. The rest were on the fence and leaning a bit negative. Why? My suspicion about the reason is that democracy is hard. You almost have to have connections to get organizations off the ground and parties are effectively non-durable, temporary organizations. First years didn’t have those connections in spades yet (at least back in October). And I’ve heard that fraternities have done a good job of monopolizing the tents, though that is unconfirmed.

Democracy is difficult, but democracy is also much more open. That can be good, as limited access is clearly a problem in Denison’s party culture. But openness can also be a problem – think of the comment section in any article online and you get the idea. Maybe those negative feelings toward the Party Tent are driven by people who are vulnerable to negative public feelings.

We started asking about sexual orientation and gender identity a few years ago and it was a standard set of questions by 2018 (that we are still working on given great community feedback – thanks for your patience and input). We need to bear in mind that these are very small samples, though the very wide confidence intervals help to show that – we have less confidence in the estimates of transgender students than we do of non-trans men and women. Anyway, feelings toward the party tent are clearly quite different for LG (lesbian, gay) students as well as trans students – lower, much lower. Trans students’ feelings toward the tent are ~25 points lower than women’s; LG students’ feelings are ~15 points lower than heterosexual students’ feelings. Interestingly, bi students are not much different than hereto students. Combining LGBT would seem to really miss out on the variation in opinion here.

Why is there this difference? Is it just antipathy for Denison party culture or some feeling of exposure that would bring out some expression of negativity? Fortunately, we asked how safe students feel in various party spaces, including “Parties in open social spaces (e.g., Lamson, Sunset, Knobel) .” The results below (coming from a regression model with other control variables) suggest differences in how LG students and trans students view public party spaces. LG students feel safe in public spaces at high levels, while transgender students do not (0-100 scale, where 100 is “completely safe”). We’ll need to dig into the varieties of party spaces we asked about in another post. Anyway, at least some of the views toward the tent are driven by feelings about safety, but not nearly all of it.

Here’s an essential lesson of institutional design. If you pick a democratic structure, it comes with democratic problems as well as democratic benefits! Amazing logic. Democracies are constantly beset with the problem of factions – organized groups can easily dominate the process and intolerant people can be a real bother to inclusion. It’s no surprise that from this perspective, negative feelings toward the tent would be found among those less organized, with fewer connections, and who have suffered from prejudicial views in society (and probably at Denison). Democracy is great, unless it’s not.

Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who coincidentally has taught research methods at Denison for millenia. He started a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action.

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