Good Times 101

Sarah Harbison finds fun at Michigan State games.
Sarah Harbison finds fun at Michigan State games. "I don't know anything about football, but you live in the moment," says Harbison, with boyfriend Kevin Mardegian, and above with roommates Shannon LaFave, Rachelle Husaynu and Kristin Martin. (Photos Courtesy Of Sarah Harbison)
By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Think fun in college consists of chugging beer and getting lucky?

That's what you might take away from two recent college surveys on student social life.

The 20-something guys at measure fun this way: bar closing hours, drug interest, the availability of free condoms, percent of girls in the student body, percent of girls in a relationship, percent of students in fraternities or sororities. (Michigan State and Indiana University rank first and second.) CollegeHumor's definitions are hardly surprising given the fact that the Web site's lifeblood appears to be photos and videos of babes, boobs and boys acting really stupid.

We might expect a more comprehensive definition of fun from the Princeton Review -- the same folks who sell all those college prep courses. But its "party school" designation of 20 schools, with the University of Texas as No. 1 and Penn State No. 2, is also based on the use of alcohol and drugs and the popularity of Greek life, as well as hours outside class spent studying (the lower the better, of course).

Alcohol and fraternities are present on almost all campuses, according to guide author Robert Franek. That makes comparisons easier and the term "party school" more quantifiable than, say, "fun school."

"What a student at Louisiana State University thinks is fun might be very different than what a student at Georgetown thinks," Franek says.

Just because a broader definition of fun is hard to come by doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. Fun might be tying one on and getting it on, but it also might be playing hacky sack or even organizing a protest.

Anastacia Cosner, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, helped push through a student referendum at Maryland last spring demanding that college authorities reduce penalties against marijuana users to those assessed on underage drinkers. She did this not because she's a stoner -- she doesn't use drugs, she says -- but because "I like bringing people together. It was fun."

Frederic D. Homer, a political philosophy professor, once led a class at the University of Wyoming through several discussions on the definition and character of fun.

Homer and graduate assistant Rodney Wambeam wanted to know what students meant when they said they were in college to have fun. They wanted to know why students rarely included classwork in that definition.

What they heard surprised them.

First of all, the students made a distinction between fun with no purpose and fun with a purpose. Fun with no purpose, said one student, was "kicking a soccer ball around with a friend for the first time and not paying attention to rules." It was, according to Wambeam, "mirthful diversion." Fun could have a purpose, the students said, as long as the purpose wasn't serious. So a game of intramural soccer with little at stake could be fun, but playing varsity soccer with the school's reputation on the line might not be.

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