Sexual assault and alcohol use are among the highest-priority topics that campus health educators address. Both of these topics are sensitive to the nuances of the messaging; there is a realistic risk of being ineffective or even causing harm. Undaunted, Student Health 101 jumped right in with a feature on how to throw a party: Are you a social engineer? Four ways to use your power for good (click to read) by Hana Awwad, October 2015.

Why is this angle so important? Because students who throw parties play an important role in shaping the sexual culture of their campus. Party-throwers are the social engineers who design the spaces in which students meet, drink, dance, talk, and hook up—so the students who organize parties in a great position to help reduce the rates of campus sexual assault. Students who throw parties can create an environment in which mutual respect, recognition, and mindful decisions are the default. On most campuses, however, there is little support available to students, and even well intentioned party-throwers can struggle.

Who read Social engineer and learned from it?

  • In October 2015, at least 39,000 student readers provided feedback.
  • Two out of three respondents said they had read Social engineer.
  • Of those, 77 percent said they had learned something from it.

Here’s what students said about Social engineer:

“The Social engineer article was phenomenal…a pragmatic approach to increasing the positive energy and general wellness of partygoers.” (US undergraduate)

“The section about what you want out of a party was definitely the most fascinating article I have read here.” (US undergraduate)

“The social engineer article really opened my mind about how you can make a difference to your peers. I never have looked at it in that way. It makes me rethink the entire party and socialization aspect of college.” (US undergraduate)

“As a sorority woman who has put on events before, I understand the process of setting up and the importance of creating a fun and safe environment. However, I never thought of this in terms of a college party! It was a great and eye-opening article!” (US undergraduate)

To find out why and how the feature worked for students, read on. But first, we’ll digress briefly to outline three ways that faculty and staff can help students plan parties:

  • Make campus staff available to talk with students about parties. Students’ main motivation is the appeal of throwing a great party and everyone having fun. Scare tactics don’t work. Encourage students to come talk about how their parties are going and how to make them better.
  • Help students think proactively about the kind of experience they want to create. What tone and vibe are they going for? How can they arrange the space in ways that help people feel comfortable?
  • Ask students what they are struggling with. For example, many students report that managing the door is difficult at large parties. How can they turn away a drunk person, especially if it’s a friend or acquaintance? What do they need to know about setting boundaries and de-escalation techniques?

Here’s why students liked this piece.

1. The article acknowledged partying and drinking alcohol as common elements of the student social scene, and did not condemn them.

“I have never once seen a magazine for college students talk about how to throw a safe and enjoyable party while also acknowledging that students may drink at parties and how to deal with it.” (US undergraduate)

“I like that the articles are nonjudgmental and understanding of college life. For example, Student Health 101 is not chastising party planners for wanting to have a fun party.” (US undergraduate)

“I am going to start embracing my social engineering side. I never thought of my organization in small groups and party planning as engineering. [It] gave me a bit of a confidence boost as well.” (US undergraduate)

“I learned about safe ways to set up a killer party!” (US undergraduate)

2. The piece positioned party hosts as key players in shaping the social and sexual culture on campus. Readers responded positively to this concept; many said it was new to them.

“I saw party hosts in a different perspective. I never thought that a party host could have so much control over the events that would happen at a party, such as reducing campus assaults.” (US undergraduate)

“I generally do a lot of my party planning or hang-out planning fairly unconsciously, so the social engineer process … was interesting and a little alien to me.” (US undergraduate)

“[The most interesting thing] was the role that party organizers play in the campus community and the ways in which they can take initiative and responsibility as implicit or explicit leaders.” (Canadian undergraduate)

“My eyes were opened to the idea that being the host of a party gives you the power to stop bad situations from happening, because you constantly have an excuse to check in on people.” (US undergraduate)

“A great step in reducing sexual assault in college and universities. Great, quality read! Will definitely be a subscriber to Student Health 101.” (Canadian undergraduate)

“It makes change on campus seem much more attainable: one party at a time.” (US undergraduate)

3. The piece outlined relevant, actionable steps and strategies; many readers said they would party more safely as a result.

“The safe party planning tips were actually applicable and seemed like ones I could use.” (US undergraduate)

“It sounds much more manageable when explained that way.” (US undergraduate)

“I like throwing parties, and I really like the suggestions on how to organize and maintain a positive atmosphere over a house party.” (US undergraduate)

“I am happy to have found this … because I would like to be more active with reducing sexual-violence incidents in my community.” (US undergraduate)

“As a party host I’m going to try harder to ensure the safety of my guests and create a party experience that is safe and enjoyable!” (Canadian undergraduate)

“I have a birthday party that I am planning for my new campus best friend and it really helped!” (US undergraduate)

“We are having a party this weekend and I will be sure to use these tips!!” (US undergraduate)

“[I want to] send that article to some of my friends who are really hardcore in the party scene, and just try and give them an idea of what they should expect when they walk into a party. I’m always worried for them.” (US undergraduate)

“The next party I hear of, I will definitely be on the look out for ways to help!” (US undergraduate)

“I enjoyed the different dynamics to consider when hosting or organizing a party. Most notably, the importance of pre-positioning hosts, making yourself known and available, as well as tips and solutions to intervene and avoid the escalation of possibly hostile situations.” (US nontraditional student)

“You can call campus police and they will assist in helping people get to and from the party, and they will let you know if anything is going on in the area. I did not know they would do that, and that is really awesome.” (US undergraduate)

“It’s interesting to read how to manage party space and be conscious about greeting people at the door. I like the idea of having a separate room from music.” (Canadian undergraduate)

“I’ll apply the party logic when I go out now.” (US undergraduate)

4. The piece outlined ways to help ensure that alcohol use is deliberative and thoughtful, rather than a default behavior; this makes it easier for drinkers to manage their consumption.

“As a party thrower you can make it easier for people to make mindful decisions.” (Canadian undergraduate)

“[I liked] the idea of social engineers being staples of a community, while also promoting responsible service of alcohol and respect towards others (e.g., making sure there is no sexual harassment during a party involving alcohol).” (Canadian undergraduate)

“The article about drinking will definitely aid me and my friends [in] creating safe environments for our party-goers and also help us be mindful of our own choices at parties.” (US undergraduate)

“I have my TIPS certification [Training for Intervention ProcedureS related to alcohol use], so the ways in which to create a safe party environment are very similar to how to create a safe bar environment.” (US undergraduate)

“I never really thought of if one threw a party, they could make it a safe party. By making sure people get home safe, and people don’t drink to the max by having someone be a server, that eliminates many people getting very drunk.” (US undergraduate)

“I will apply the party tips (like designating someone to serve drinks at parties) to my coming party and let my friends know.” (US nontraditional student)

“I will actually probably have more water out when I throw a party. If I’m drunk and see water I’m good at drinking it. If I don’t see it though I don’t drink as much as I should. I’ll put water out more.” (US undergraduate)

“It talks about helping friends [and] described the symptoms so I can spot alcohol poisoning much easier.” (US undergraduate)

“I do alcohol awareness, stress, nutrition, and violence prevention events on campus. This literature and research would be a great tool to add.” (US undergraduate)

Any criticism? Several students said they weren’t sure the steps would be fully implemented.

“I liked some of the ideas around giving a party, though I think it was a bit unrealistic (ex: drink servers: good idea, but who is going to be willing to do this for the whole party?)” (Canadian undergraduate)

“Be real with your under-21 audience too.” (Nontraditional student)