The backyard fraternity party was in full dancing, drinking mode on a recent Saturday morning. To the sounds of "No Problem" by Chance the Rapper, Breanna DeCocker, 20, a junior at the University of Michigan here, ducked through the crowd holding a clipboard.
"Give me that," she said, snatching a bag of white wine from a female classmate in a Michigan T-shirt who was holding the bag aloft and guzzling from the nozzle.
"You don't want no problem, no problem with me," the song warned, and it was clear that no one wanted any problem with DeCocker, either.
For the second time that morning, she had foiled a round of Slap the Bag, the popular pastime of chugging cheap wine out of a plastic bladder liberated from its box. Under the new university rules to combat drinking, it is prohibited.
Drinking games with red Solo cups of beer, "pregaming" with Fireball shots, swigging 190-proof grain alcohol punch on the way to blacking out: It's party time at college campuses across the country, even when there is no football game.
But this year, dozens of universities are taking new measures to kill the party mood, increasingly worried about student safety and the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault complaints.
At Indiana University, hard liquor is now prohibited at fraternity parties. At Michigan fraternity parties, new student patrols enforce bans on kegs. In addition to banning hard liquor at undergraduate parties, Stanford now limits the size of bottles students may possess.
Every countermeasure, though, seems to meet an obstacle. Ohio State recently permitted beer sales at its football stadium, an irresistible revenue boost for the university, even as security personnel work to catch underage drinkers. At Stanford, students said they were continuing to sip, gulp and chug, rules or no rules.
To capture the uneasy balance between the forces promoting alcohol and those trying to control it, The New York Times sent reporters to five campuses. Here is what they found.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At Michigan, DeCocker, from Orland Park, Illinois, was one of a dozen students volunteering to patrol parties attended by fraternity and sorority members, who have been seen, especially recently, as destructive and out of control. The low point may have been in January 2015, when a group of students vacationing at a ski resort in northern Michigan wrecked their hotel rooms in a drunken fray, causing, the hotel said, more than $400,000 in damage.
Michigan's president, Mark Schlissel, warned that the Greek system could self-destruct, and he has since cited the connection between drinking and campus sexual assault. In a 2015 fact sheet, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated that alcohol was a factor in 97,000 cases of sexual assault and date rape each year among college-age students.
Michigan's Greek system promised to self-police, and this semester, a new set of rules was introduced for game days, when Ann Arbor teems with tens of thousands of students decked out in the university's colors of maize and blue. DeCocker and the other student volunteers — in conspicuous orange shirts — were putting the restrictions to the test on this crisp, sunny Saturday, as Michigan prepared to play Penn State. They were determined to inspect each fraternity party.
Caroline Alford, 22, a senior from Los Angeles, explained what qualified as a violation. Handles of alcohol being passed around. Kegs. People on the roof. A lack of "sober monitors" — fraternity members who abstain from drinking and supervise the party.
As the monitors passed a dilapidated house where students were drinking beer on a front porch, one pointed at the ambassadors. "They're here to shut down the vibe!" he shouted. Alford did not flinch.
The patrol arrived at a party at Sigma Phi Epsilon. Three students sat on the roof, their sneakers dangling off the side. "Can you get the people off the roof?" Andy Tripp, another ambassador, asked one of the members.
Tyler Bryant, the chapter president of Kappa Sigma, nervously surveyed a party outside his fraternity, where rust-colored Keystone Light cans littered the grass.
"We have that negative stereotype, and we're trying to reverse it," he said, pausing to admonish a partygoer who had lightly doused a reporter and another guest with beer.
— Julie Bosman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — "Let me hug you," John Jacob, 21, a senior from Cincinnati, said as a stranger approached him in the concession area of Ohio State's stadium. He was one of many fans in high spirits as the university's football team demolished Rutgers, 58-0.
Jacob, holding a Budweiser, had gathered near other students who waited in lines during the third quarter. Beer sales would soon end.
"Our friend just got stopped," said Savannah Renshaw, 21, a senior from Dayton, as she stood with Jacob and other friends. "Security came up to her and said, 'Can I see your ID?'"
Nearby, a young woman leaned over a garbage can. "We've all been there," said her boyfriend, who claimed she had not been drinking. In the stands, a similar mess was being cleaned up with disinfectant.
At Ohio State, 42 percent of undergraduates reported having drunk five or more drinks in one sitting in the previous two weeks, according to a 2014 survey, a record similar to that of many large public universities. It is, though, a higher rate of what is considered binge drinking than the 36 percent found nationally in the same study. Yet in June, the university joined the more than 35 universities that sell beer to general-admission ticket holders at their football stadiums.
Unlike most other Big Ten universities, critics said, Ohio State succumbed to the allure of additional revenue.
"I don't think that's a wise thing, as we're trying to teach our kids to moderate and to enjoy both alcohol and nonalcohol activities," said Schlissel, the Michigan president.
But Jacob, a finance major, noting the Ohio State stadium's nearly 105,000 seats, said, "Obviously, it's a huge potential market."
Officials reported $412,000 in sales for the first three games, about 16,000 beers per game.
Some students said that because the rules permitted the purchase of two beers at a time, it was relatively easy to buy for a friend, then hand it over in the stands without detection.
A university spokesman, Christopher Davey, said that could occur even if only one beer were sold at a time, and that the university was also enforcing the law. Ten people at the Rutgers game were cited in and around the stadium for offenses related to providing fake IDs, underage drinking and furnishing alcohol to minors, he said.
Officials at Ohio State say there have been no major incidents related to its beer sales.
But as he left the game, W. Carlton Weddington, 46, a former state representative from Columbus, warned: "At the end of the year, when the national championship is on the line, things get rowdy. We'll see what happens."
— Stephanie Saul
BOSTON — While many colleges are combating excessive drinking by encouraging students to drink safely, Boston University, in the middle of a bustling city of more than 650,000, is drilling down on law and order.
On a recent night, sitting in an unmarked police car and wearing plain clothes, Sgt. Larry Cuzzi and two officers with the university's police department staked out a liquor store inside a grocery at the edge of campus.
Boston University does not have a football team, but other local sporting events, including one of the final games for the Red Sox star David Ortiz, known as "Big Papi," provided ample reasons for a party — not that students needed one.
The officers had not been parked five minutes when one, Nancy O'Laughlin, spotted her first targets: two lanky young men, one wearing an empty backpack — a red flag because it suggests that one might be purchasing on behalf of the other. She bolted out of the car and waited to ask them for IDs as they left the store.
"They're not really afraid of the courts," said Cuzzi, a 20-year veteran of the force who runs its alcohol enforcement program. "But they are afraid of the university."
In addition to revoking scholarship money, the university can take away student housing and impose athletic sanctions on students caught buying alcohol for anyone under 21, or with fake IDs.
Before the program started, in 2011, officers were calling ambulances for more than 300 students a year because of drunkenness — the majority of them freshmen. Those numbers have dropped by nearly half, but binge drinking and the problems that come with it, including sexual assaults, have not disappeared.
One night earlier, the officers had sent six dangerously drunk students to the hospital by ambulance. O'Laughlin had found one of them, an 18-year old woman, naked and unresponsive inside a fraternity house.
At the liquor store, O'Laughlin pulled one of the young men by the shoulder as they left. He had a backpack full of beer. Both said they were 21, presenting IDs to prove it, so the officers let them go.
But as the night went on, the officers issued summonses to a half-dozen underage students, including two freshmen carrying wine and a pair of convincing fake IDs, complete with holograms.
As 11 p.m. approached, closing time for liquor stores, O'Laughlin spied a young man wearing skinny jeans and a backward cap urinating on a gate outside the market.
Glassy-eyed and slurring his words, the young man said he was 19. After giving Cuzzi some attitude — "Whatever you say, man — you're the law" — he was handcuffed. Later, the officers would send him to the hospital to sober up.
— Caitlin Dickerson
A scary path
PALO ALTO, Calif. — It's long been known as the scary path, a wooded shortcut between fraternity houses renowned for both its convenience and its lack of lighting. At the end of the path is the Dumpster near which a young woman was sexually assaulted last year by Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, after a night of heavy drinking at the Kappa Alpha fraternity.
On a recent October evening, another party at Kappa Alpha was in full swing.
Fraternity brothers crushed cans of Natural Light in drinking games at a row of long wooden tables. Music coursed through the building, a mansion with a golf cart out front.
Turner's much-criticized six-month jail sentence this year helped bring fresh scrutiny to Stanford's party culture. But even before the controversy, the university was working on initiatives to combat sexual assault and drinking on campus. Its effort to roll out those programs this fall — and the resistance by students and faculty members — demonstrate just how hard it is to find the right measures.
The most talked-about new rule limits possession of hard alcohol to bottles smaller than 750 milliliters and bans liquor from undergraduate parties. Ralph J. Castro, the head of the university's office of alcohol policy and education, said the policy was not a reaction to the Turner case, but to the 30 or so students each fall who were sent to the hospital after heavy drinking.
But some here, particularly women, said the move would drive drinking behind closed doors, into dorm rooms where rape was more likely to occur. This fall, at least two women have reported sexual assaults in campus housing.
The new rules brought attention to a page on the alcohol office's website, titled "Female Bodies and Alcohol," that explained that women often become drunk faster than men because they tend to be smaller. The page was swiftly denounced as blaming women's bodies — not the actions of men — for sexual assault. It was quickly changed, but the damage had been done.
"The website focused on stopping women from drinking hard alcohol," said Stephanie Pham, 20, a junior from Monterey Park, and the founder of a campus anti-assault group, Stanford ASAP. "Why doesn't Stanford focus on discouraging rapists from raping?"
(The university's new programs include an overhaul of its assault investigation process and a 90-minute seminar for freshmen that covers sexual consent.)
On campus, several students said their resident advisers had announced that they would not enforce the liquor rules.
Susannah Meyer, 19, a sophomore from Manhattan, said she'd already seen students downing extra liquor before parties for fear they wouldn't find it later. "They're like, 'Nothing is going to be there when I go out, so I have to get it done now,'" she said. "That's really the attitude — a sense of urgency."
But Castro is encouraged. During the first three weeks of the quarter, Stanford had three alcohol-related hospital transports of students.
It normally has three or four times as many.
— Julie Turkewitz
Drinks with breakfast
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Indiana University football team's humiliating loss to Wake Forest University did not put a damper on the festivities at Kilroy's on Kirkwood.
The DJ's music pulsated and a crowd of students danced, some on the tables.
Unlike Indiana's football team, Kilroy's is a powerhouse, one of the most popular college bars in the country.
The line to enter had snaked around the corner before dawn, with students awaiting the Kilroy's game-day tradition of a breakfast buffet.
Fourteen bartenders were ready at 7 a.m. to make mixed drinks — Sex on the Beach, Kamikaze, Woo Woo, Peaches 'n' Cream, Girl Scout Cookie, Blue Suede Shoes, Liquid Cocaine, Alabama Slammer, Water Long Island.
A $5 cover charge pays for the buffet and a T-shirt. Drinks are extra.
Kilroy's — with three locations within walking distance of campus — has perfected the art of freebies and promotions that attract students: $2 Tuesdays and $3 Thursdays for certain liquor, beer and food, and free burgers and pizza on Friday evenings. Yet those deals come with another price. Research has shown that alcohol specials increase binge drinking.
On home game days, there are more sexual assaults at universities, particularly in the first couple of months of classes.
This fall, Indiana imposed a rule prohibiting hard liquor at its fraternity houses after several accusations of sexual assault last year and a sex tape from one house, which was shut down.
How much these efforts will work is an open question, despite some research showing that limiting alcohol on campus is effective. Yet off-campus drinking may be even more difficult to control. The Indiana campus is still reeling from recent violent episodes — the sort of stories that figure into the nightmares of parents — connected to the busy off-campus bar scene.
A 52-year-old man was sentenced last month to 80 years in prison for the 2015 murder of a 22-year-old Indiana senior, whom he followed home after she had spent a night drinking with friends. The case was similar to the unsolved disappearance in 2011 of Lauren Spierer, a 20-year-old Indiana student from Edgemont, New York, after a night at Kilroy's Sports Bar in Bloomington, where she left behind her shoes.
Kilroy's, which rents its Kirkwood location from the Indiana University Foundation, was cited for serving alcohol to an underage person in the Spierer case. Since then, its ownership has changed hands, and students say there has been increased enforcement of underage drinking. Kilroy's manager, Ross Freeman, did not respond to requests for comment.
As the evening progressed, the floor at Kilroy's grew slippery with beer and grime, and the restrooms emitted telltale odors of overindulgence.
"They drink early," said Chief Michael Diekhoff of the Bloomington Police Department. "They may or may not go to the game. Then they'll take a nap. Then they'll get up and start again."
— Stephanie Saul