Iowa City Stories

April 1, 2010

Residence Halls Consider the 21 Ordinance



The ARH is looking for help from students for improvement, and positions for next semester.

They could be new lyrics to an old tune: “How you gonna keep ‘em down at the dorm after they’ve seen the bars?”

With one more reading, The Iowa City City Council is poised to pass the so-called 21-ordinance for Iowa City bars.  It would restrict people under 21 from being in downtown bars after 10 p.m.  The city council is under pressure to curb student binge drinking, and proponents of the ordinance say it’s a step in the right direction.

But it’s an unpopular idea with students under the age of 21 who frequently go out to the bars on Thursday nights or weekends to socialize.  Students have argued to the UI student council that preventing underage students from entering a bar after 10 p.m.  will simply make them go to house parties or other places in Iowa City to find alcohol and drink.

Enter the Associated Residence Halls

With thousands of under-aged drinkers under their roofs, campus dorms are ground zero for the movement opposing the 21 ordinance.  It’s not that the UI doesn’t try to keep dorm residents sober and out of trouble.  Activities sponsored by the University have always been in place around campus to offer alcohol free alternatives to hanging out at the bars.  The Associated Residence Halls group has sponsored events in the dorms to promote these alternatives.  While some students attend these events, many, like 19 year old sophomore Yani Anastis, are skeptical.

“Kids are definitely not going to do that,” said Anastis, who lives in the Currier residence hall.  He doesn’t believe there are many activities at the dorm that could compete with going downtown to hang out on the Ped-Mall with friends on a bar crawl.

“No one wants to stay in the dorms during a Friday night, and there’s not much to do around.  It’s just kinda hard,” said Anastis.  He said he goes out to bars at least once a week , usually on the weekend.  What non-alcoholic fun could the dorms offer to keep him entertained?  “I’m not too sure,” said Anastis.  “I can’t really think of much.”

The Associated Residence Hall organization admits that it struggles to keep students interested in their events, and they’ve recently begun talking about plans to beef up their programs to keep students coming back for more.  ARH member Mark Schwenker works with all the other members of ARH and the student governments in each residence hall.  He says ARH members have started to talk about the 21 ordinance, and they are trying to create a contingency plan if it passes next week.

“ARH is working with all of the individual hall governments on preparing for the 21 ordinance. Discussion with any others outside of residence hall government has not occurred,” said Schwenker.

The Next Course of Action

While the Associated Residence Halls hasn’t actually sought the advice of students outside their group, there are flyers being distributed at the residence halls’ dining facilities encouraging students to get involved in ARH, and to become members.  Students I talked to had ideas, but they were not positive these would make any sort of difference in terms of curbing the appeal of a house party with alcohol.  “Maybe more movies, cause back home we’d do that.  I don’t know – it’s Iowa –  so people are going to go around the rules,” says Samantha Nasca, an under-age student who lives in Rienow Hall.

The residence halls coordinators are well aware that students will still leave the dorms if the 21 ordinance is passed and find a way to party the night away with an alcoholic beverage in hand.  But with a “zero tolerance” of alcohol in dorm rooms, the ARH’s Schwenker says they will continue issuing fines to students who break the rules.  The dorms are committed to being “dry.”

The Plan So Far

While ARH is just beginning to consider what to do in order to offer alternative activities for students, it may be too early to say what will actually happen.  “One idea is to provide more late-night events for residents going from about 11pm-2am,” said Schwenker.  ARH believes that if students are able to have an enjoyable time at an event that goes later into the night, there won’t be as much interest in leaving the dorms to go looking for other activities in Iowa City.

However, students are doubtful about any plans the dorms come up with.  “Nothing’s going to top going out,” said freshman Hannah Thompson, who lives in Rienow.  When asked how to appeal to students like Hannah, who opt for Iowa City’s night life over the residence hall events, Schwenker said, “I ask how can we make it interesting.  ARH is asking itself, ‘what makes residents want to go downtown?’”

Looking Ahead

The ARH is also aware that it needs more money to sponsor events that are more frequent and consistently fun for students.  How to raise those funds is another problem.  Ideas include reallocating housing contract money, or even applying alcohol fines to sponsor “dry” social events.   However, students seem ambivalent towards the efforts made by ARH.

The Iowa City City council’s final reading of the 21 ordinance is scheduled for Thursday, April 6.  If it passes, it goes into effect June 1.  However, it could be repealed later next fall.   Dorm resident Samantha Nasca was clear.  “I hope it gets repealed in November,” she said.

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