Boomers and booze: What drinking culture was like when your parents were in college

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Alcohol, bottles, students (Katharine Schooler | Collegian Media Group)

Frat parties, “Wine Wednesdays,” crazy Saturday nights at the bars — many view college as a time to let loose and have fun, and while it may not be as big of a party as the movies suggest, drinking culture is prevalent in most college towns.

Underage drinking is also prevalent.

Since 1986, alcohol has been legally prohibited from anyone under the age of 21, but before the law changed, 18-year-olds could be found drinking in bars. As a result, drinking culture in college towns has changed quite a bit since the early 80s.

Steven Smethers, interim director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications and 1976 Kansas State graduate, has seen that change firsthand.

“Drinking wasn’t always a weeknight thing,” Smethers said. “Friday afternoon was the time to go out. We called that TGIF’ing.”

“TGIF’ing,” short for “thank God it’s Friday,” was students’ way of kicking off the weekend, David Witter, 1981 Kansas State graduate, said.

“You would start drinking at about 1 p.m.,” Witter said. “As soon as class was over, we would go out.”

Like plenty of current K-Staters, many students in school before the 21-and-up law went out drinking most weekends.

“I went out two or three nights every week,” Sylvia Ridge, K-State alumna, said, “And if I was bored, a fourth.”

Today, drinking in the dorms can result in disciplinary action. Then, the practice was more popular and accepted.

“When we would have floor parties in the dorms, there would be kegs on each floor,” Janeen Cooper, 1988 K-State graduate, said. “You still had to be 18 years old to drink in the dorms.”

Off-campus, Dark Horse Tavern, which “always had the best bands,” was one of Ridge’s favorite places to go out, she said.

For Ridge, a night out could quickly escalate from a simple hangout with a friend to a “rager” once their other “drinking buddies” started showing up.

For Witter, Kite’s was “the number one place to drink in Aggieville,” especially for those in Greek organizations. Cheap beer and the good company helped, he said.

“Kites has been around since God was in diapers,” Smethers said. “We would go out and drink pitchers of beer socially.”

Today, Smethers said he sees students getting “dangerously and more sloppily drunk with more regularity.”

Like many students today, Ridge and Witter both said the drinking culture during their college years impacted their academics.

“I didn’t handle my first semester well at all,” Witter said. “I didn’t go to class as much as I should have, and I did go to Aggieville quite a bit.”

Ridge spent two years at K-State before leaving due to her grades.

“I didn’t mind going to class, but when it came down to studying, I just didn’t,” Ridge said. “Life was just a party, and all of a sudden I was getting a lot of attention from men. I was having a ball.”

Hookup culture is another aspect of college that many parents dread and many students experience. Ridge said the cultures of drinking and hooking up went hand-in-hand when she was in school and still seem to despite progressive attitudes.

In the 80s, Ridge said Wednesdays were “ladies’ night,” but she said college students today are living in the “Me Too era.”

“The culture [when I was in college] totally supported a wink and a nod,” she said. “It was encouraged to get the girls to come out to the bars, so women got in for no cover.”

While her college experience may seem extreme by today’s standards, Ridge said her drinking stories weren’t atypical of her peers at the time.

“I think a lot of people had the same experience when I was in school,” Ridge said. “It’s a lot different now, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I think people need to be honest about it. That’s the way it was.”

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