'Sober parties' offer students unique social option

When you hear college house party, your next thought is probably booze, but some Wisconsin students are putting the party before the alcohol.   It's a surprising twist in the state's college party scene.

College drinking leads to more than 1,800 deaths across the U.S. every year, according to the National Institutes of Health.  And the first 6 weeks of a student's freshman year is a vulnerable time for heavy drinking.  One Wisconsin campus is trying to change those numbers, and students are turning up.

If you're going to a college house party you can probably bet there will be alcohol. It's almost expected - a culture embedded deep in American college campuses.  Unless you like to Party.0.  It's the same kind of party but you leave sober.  There's no booze or drugs. 

It was created by former UW-Oshkosh student Jake White, who doesn't drink.  Partying sober made college life difficult.  "I thought there was something wrong with me," Jake remembered.  So he decided to throw a sober party. 

"The first party was a complete disaster.  There were 80 students in this little like one bedroom apartment." 

More students than he ever expected.  So Jake got better at planning and by his junior year, Party.0 was born. 

"Attendance went from 80 to 120 to 150 and kind of capped off for us right around 180."

Jake then realized students really want this option. 

"Students really aren't coming to parties for the beer. They're coming for the friends and for a place to let loose." 

Every Party.0 has a DJ, games, and free food and drink from sponsors.  Students are personally invited by text message.  Since Jake graduated, Shris Schierl has been running Party.0, and there have been some challenges.

"I think people are just scared of being ridiculed for going to something that's not the norm," Chris told us.  But he believes if they come to a party they won't be disappointed. 

"It's like a normal party.  We just don't have kegs, and we don't have alcohol, and everyone's just having a good time."

The concept is making an impact.  Starting with the house where Party.0 now throws the sober parties.  It used to be a problem for law enforcement. 

Captain Chris Tarmann with the UW-Oshkosh Police Department pointed out "there haven't been issues since Party.0 took it over.  That has to say something."   He's used to writing expensive tickets for underage drinking.  A first offense is more than $260. 

"If this model of him building Party.0 pulls away a student, and they no longer have that culture, that's great. That's a success."

Party.0 is now Jake's job.  He graduated two years ago and turned his idea into a non-profit. Now Jake's planning a national tour, training other student leaders on how to make Party.0 work.  "The universities actually can't change their drinking culture.  The staff and administration they can't do it, but students can.  That's why Party.0 is so powerful."

Party.0 is only in Wisconsin right now.  UW-Lacrosse and St. Norbert College have also hosted parties. Jake will visit 48 states next year, talking to different student leaders about Party.0. 

Learn more here.

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