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Going to a party? Or throwing one? Party-throwers and party-goers play a vital role in shaping the sexual culture of your community. Party-throwers are the social engineers who design the spaces in which students meet, dance, talk, and sometimes drink or hook up. A well-planned environment helps everyone to make mindful decisions. And as a party guest, you can do a lot to make this easier for your host and more fun for yourself and others. Every time you demonstrate mutual respect, you reduce the likelihood of sexual assault and/or alcohol poisoning. Here’s how to throw a great party and be a great guest.
The minimum legal age for consuming alcohol in the US is 21.
How invitations can set the tone and expectations
Set the tone
How you talk about a party can go a long way in helping your guests imagine what it will be like. What’s the tone or vibe you want for your party? For example:
- If you don’t want people throwing up on your couch, don’t advertise the party with lots of alcohol images.
- Party themes can be fun—if they’re inclusive and thoughtful. Themes based on racial or gender stereotypes set up the party for failure.
- Consider how many guests you can realistically handle: the more people, the more potential for problems.
Are there “house rules” you want your guests to know about? For example:
- You’d like to know in advance if they’re bringing friends
- Certain spaces in your venue are off-limits
- Behavioral tip-offs:
- “Costumes are optional; respect for everyone is required”
- “Please help us with cleanup before you leave”
“Oh, hi there!” Why it helps to have a designated greeter
Set a friendly tone
Consider explicitly assigning someone (or a few people) the task of greeting guests and inviting them in.
If there’s stuff your guests need to know, like when this thing is shutting down, consider posting it in the entryway.
Check in with arriving guests
Are they arriving alone? Slurring their words? Wobbly on their feet? You might want to check in with someone’s friends, get them medical attention, or not serve them any more alcohol.
Send people home safely
Make sure your guests have a safe way to get home. Check in with them as they leave. Post info about taxi and ride services, as well as medical response resources in case of accidents or alcohol poisoning.
CHECK IN WITH NEIGHBORS AND CAMPUS SECURITY
Give certain people a heads-up
Here’s why that works out better for you:
Check in with your neighbors
- Let them know you’re planning a party. Better yet, invite them! Let them know the day and time of the party (start to end).
- Give them your phone number. Ask them to call or text if they have any concerns. Ideally, any noise complaints would be communicated to you first, rather than to the police. Don’t forget to pay attention to your phone during the party.
Check in with your campus security department or local police
- They will get in touch with you if something happens in your area that you and your guests should know about.
- They may give you a call if they get a noise complaint rather than showing up and shutting the party down.
- They may be able to help people get to and from the party safely.
Check school policies and state laws
- For example, if alcohol is being served and you do not have a liquor license, it may be illegal to collect money at the door—for any reason.
DANCE SPACE & CHILL SPACE
Why parties need several spaces and options
Not everyone has fun the same way all the time.
When you’re putting together the playlist or choosing entertainers or DJs, think about how well they fit your values and priorities for the party. Avoid music that seems derogatory or aggressive.
Provide a quieter, more well-lit space where your guests can hang out, catch their breath, and talk. Play softer music. It’s a good idea to stock this space with cold water bottles and low-salt, high-protein snacks.
A set-up that makes room for conversation will help your guests communicate more clearly. This is especially important if two people are considering going home together.
Think about adding activities (apart from dancing) that don’t involve alcohol, like Jenga®, board games, and trivia.
& ISOLATED SPACE
What to do about isolated spaces
If there are isolated spaces in your party venue, decide whether or not to keep them open and accessible.
If not: Lock the door, rope off the space, and/or hang signs saying the space is closed.
If you keep isolated areas open, assign someone the task of checking in on those spaces throughout the party.
GET MEDICAL HELP IN CASE OF ALCOHOL POISONING & HANDLE DIFFICULT GUESTS
How to trouble shoot at parties
Get medical help in case of alcohol poisoning
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the medical response resources available on your campus or in your community. If everything goes according to plan, your guests will drink safely and won’t need to use them.
Any of the following symptoms indicates alcohol poisoning
Call for medical help immediately:
- Can’t walk unassisted
- Unconscious and unresponsive
- Vomiting continuously
Handle difficult guests
Keep your cool. Controlling tone and body language can be tricky, but it’s crucial to prevent the situation from escalating further.
- Make clear “I” statements. Telling someone that they are too drunk or too aggressive invokes defensiveness. Try something like “I’m sorry but I can’t give you another drink” or “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
- Ask for help. If the situation seems volatile, enlist the help of others: your co-hosts or close friends, or friends of the person causing trouble (ask them to take their friend home).
WEAR SIGNATURE CLOTHING, CHECK IN ON GUESTS, & SUBTLY DISRUPT UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATIONS
How to be the party-thrower of party-goers’ dreams
Make yourself noticeable
Pick a certain color, a silly hat, or a large pin (“Here to help!”). This lets guests know where to turn if anything comes up. If a large group is throwing the party, consider trading off “hosting duties” through the evening.
Model supportive social dynamics
Party-throwers are especially attuned to the general mood. You get to take the lead on looking out for one another and treating guests with respect. If you drink alcohol, stop after one or two.
Make the rounds
Introduce people and troubleshoot issues as they come up.
Check isolated spaces, such as bedrooms, closets, and yards.
Subtly disrupt uncomfortable situations
Maybe a guest is getting unwanted attention or someone is pressuring others to drink. It’s your party: You can check in whenever you notice something, no matter how small. The most effective interventions happen early and subtly. Distract people, change the topic, make a joke or an introduction.
BAR—IF YOU’RE SERVING ALCOHOL
How to help your guests make mindful choices
If you plan to serve alcohol, aim for an environment in which everyone can make mindful, deliberate choices about whether they want to drink and how much. A successful party does not have to involve alcohol.
If you serve alcohol:
- Keep it in one place. This way, your guests drink only if they’ve made an active choice to do so. Having alcohol in multiple places suggests that drinking (and often drinking heavily) is the default.
- Have ice on hand. Your cocktails and mocktails (nonalcoholic cocktails) will feel fancier and your guests will take their time sipping their drinks.
- Use narrow cups and proper measuring tools. If you’re serving hard liquor, use a 1 oz. shot glass.
- Offer one or two nonalcoholic mocktails; promote them on signs or posters. Look online for recipes.
Why it helps to have a designated server
For guests, this set up makes drinking an active choice rather than a default. It’s easier for people to count their drinks over the course of the evening.
Designated servers are awesome at these party skills:
- Mixing tasty cocktails that complement the party theme, or just serving beer or wine.
- Not over-pouring drinks.
- Keeping an eye out, noticing who needs to switch to something nonalcoholic.
- Offering nonalcoholic options, including mocktails.
Many campuses and community organizations offer classes on bartending skills and safe serving practices—often for free.
NOTICE THE TONE, HOUSE RULES, & PLAN AHEAD
Pay attention to the invitation
Notice the tone
The invitation (whatever form it takes) should give you some idea of what your hosts have in mind. Big house party? Chill get-together?
Respect their house rules
Validate the hosts’ trust in you. They might want to keep certain areas off-limits, or they may need to end things at a certain hour.
Think about what you want out of the party. If alcohol will be served: Do you want to drink? How much? You can have a great time at any party without drinking any alcohol. If you do plan to drink, a good rule of thumb is one standard drink every hour or 1½ hours.
Be a good sport about the theme
If your hosts have gone through the trouble of coming up with a theme, do your best to play along. A good theme will make room for everyone to participate in whatever way they feel comfortable, so feel free to find your own.
- Does something about the theme seem off to you? Playing to racial or gender stereotypes is unlikely to end well. If the theme raises a red flag, bring that up with the hosts ahead of time. They would probably prefer to tweak things early on than end up with a lousy party.
TOUCH BASE WITH THE HOST
Touch base with the host in advance
Get in touch with your host at least a day in advance. Do they need help setting up? Or staying late to help clean up? This a great way to show your appreciation.
If you want to bring something, consider snacks (preferably low-salt and high-protein ones, like Greek yogurt dip or hummus with veggies) or mixers. These go quickly at parties, and your hosts will appreciate having extras.
WELCOME THE NEWBIES,
& SAY HI TO THE HOST
Say hi to the host and the newbies
Find the host when you arrive
You’re here to see them, and they’ll be happy to know you made it. Ask if they could use a hand with anything.
If you don’t know many people there, tell your host
They want you to have fun. They probably have a good sense of who you’ll get along with, and can introduce you.
If you see new faces in the room, say hello
Offer to show them around, and introduce them to other guests. You’ve been that newbie—remember the relief when someone made you feel welcome in a new space.
If you’re the newbie, branch out
- Parties are a great place to meet new friends. Foolproof conversation starters: “How do you know [the host]?” and “Got any tips for new grad students?”
- Trust your instincts. You may be new to this particular space, but you’re very good at knowing when you’re having fun and feeling welcomed. If you’re feeling pressured or getting an uncomfortable vibe from someone, pull a third person into the mix or come up with an excuse to leave the interaction.
RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S LIMITS – AND YOUR OWN
Respect other people’s limits – and your own
Fun means different things to different people. Some people would rather hang out and talk than spend the night on the dance floor. Some people will be more comfortable getting physical than others. Whatever it is, pay attention to the cues you’re getting, and respect them.
- Most of us are very good at reading the subtle communicative cues we get from other people—including in romantic and sexual situations.
- We can tell when someone is engaged and enthusiastic versus disengaged and uninterested. We notice things like whether the other person is leaning in or pulling away, intensifying or slowing down.
- Ideal encounters happen when there is mutual enthusiasm. If you encounter anything less than that, take a step back and reassess. Hold out for a better situation.
LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Look out for yourself and others
If you notice a troubling dynamic, think about how best to step in
Perhaps you notice someone experiencing unwanted attention or being pressured to drink more than they want to. Maybe you see some broken glass or someone in need of medical attention.
Whatever it is, there’s always something you can do
This is your community, and you play an important role in making it a positive and supportive one. You could:
- Check in: Say hello, ask a question, ask for help. A small distraction like that can give someone the out they need.
- Engage the hosts: Let the people who are throwing the party know sooner rather than later. The sooner you spot potential trouble, the easier it is to redirect things unobtrusively.
- Find the friends: If you don’t know the people involved, you can find their friends and see if they can intervene.
If you’re worried that your friend is pressuring others
This can be a great opportunity for a stealthy intervention—for example, by joining a conversation or people on the dance floor. If you’re close to your friend, you can always demand that they consult you about something important in the other room.
IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK, DO SO MINDFULLY
If you choose to drink, do so mindfully
People have different limits when it comes to alcohol
Many people make the decision not to drink alcohol at all. Pressuring someone to drink beyond their limit puts them at risk and creates more work for your host. That guest who drinks too much may get sick, need medical attention, or be unable to get home safely.
Trust your own limits
Be especially cautious if you are stressed or sleep-deprived, taking medication, have alcohol misuse in your family, or have diabetes. If you’ve chosen to drink alcohol, remember to pace yourself so that you’re sober enough to enjoy the party and the company of your friends. Tips for drinking safely:
- Think ahead to the party and decide if and how much you want to drink.
- Limit yourself to one drink per hour or 1½ hours.
- Hydrate! Alternate alcoholic drinks with water, seltzer, or soda.
- Ask and remind friends to support your decision about drinking limits.
- Avoid drinking games. “Drinking games are designed to have you fail and promote more drinking,” says Dr. Scott Lukas, a researcher in substance use and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Include people who don’t want to drink
- Offer nonalcoholic options if you’re offering to get the next round of drinks: “Does anyone want another beer or soda?”
- Suggest conversation and dancing—activities that don’t center on drinking. Think of something that everyone can take part in.
- Model reasonable drinking habits so that sober people feel comfortable being around you. Feel free to turn down a drink you don’t want with a quick “No thanks” or “Still working on this one.”
CHECK IN AGAIN BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Check in again before you leave
Thank the host for a great party
Ask if they need anything before you head out: Can you lend a hand cleaning up? Can you walk someone home or give them a ride?
Don’t leave your host in the lurch
If your host is dealing with drunk or unruly guests, ask what you can do to help. Maybe you could suggest that everyone head out for pizza, help find the stragglers’ friends, or offer them a ride home.
Follow up the next day
Thank your host
They’ll be happy to hear what you enjoyed. If their party planning supported different ways to have fun, say how much you appreciated it.
Check in with anyone you may have been concerned about at the party
- If you weren’t able to act in the moment, don’t assume the opportunity has passed. You can always check in afterward: “I saw you at the party on Saturday. I was concerned. Did that work out OK?”
- This is especially effective if you are noticing an ongoing dynamic. You might get coffee with a friend to talk about their new relationship. You can also check in with a friend if their behavior has been a little pushy lately.
- If you are concerned about a friend’s behavior, it can be useful to talk to them later when there is time to sit down.
- Avoid taking an accusatory tone. Voice your concerns about the particular situation or pattern of behavior.
- Make sure your friend knows you’re bringing this up because you care about them and you want to look out for them. You can say something like: “I know you meant well” or “You know that I think you’re a great person.”
- You know your friend best: You’re equipped to figure out how to have a conversation about why it’s wrong to use pressure.
Melanie Boyd, PhD, assistant dean in student affairs at Yale University; lecturer in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.
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