Unofficial: Go big or go home

By Jess Peterson, Staff writer

Practicing keg stands and shotgunning beer is not on every student’s agenda in the days leading up to March 3, better known as Unofficial 2017.

Campus clothing shops have been displaying green apparel in their windows for the past couple of weeks, and Facebook events for Unofficial have been circulating since fall semester. When the clock strikes 6 a.m. on Friday morning, alarm clocks across Champaign-Urbana call out to students to down their first drink of the day.

However, this does not apply to all students on campus.

There will still be students sleeping soundly with their bags packed, waiting until a reasonable hour to rise to begin their trip home for the weekend.

Kaitlin Block, sophomore in Social Work, is one of the individuals who will be opting out of the chaos of Unofficial and replacing it with a weekend back in her hometown of Paris, Illinois. To Block, Unofficial has an unnecessary hype surrounding it, and many students treat Unofficial as if it were a real holiday.

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“I’m not 21, so I can’t get into the bars, so for me, a typical weekend on campus is more fun,” Block said.

Last year, she stayed on campus for the morning and left later in the day, but can recall the difference in campus energy and stress-inducing student behavior.

“I remember walking down Green Street at 10 a.m. and hearing ambulances,” Block said. “Unofficial is too stressful for what it’s worth.”

The excitement from students surrounding this Friday does not go unnoticed by the administration or local police departments.

Patrick Wade, Communications Specialist for the UIPD, wrote in an email that while there will be an increased number of officers patrolling the streets this Friday, drinking tickets may not be as abundant as students expect.

“The likelihood of receiving a drinking ticket is extremely low if our students who choose to consume alcohol do so in a safe, respectful way … we don’t have the time or resources to ticket every person who is drinking underage,” Wade wrote.

Walking around outside wearing green or Unofficial-themed clothing is not what police are looking for to make arrests. Wade emphasized that students are more likely to get into trouble not for participating in Unofficial, but for doing so in a highly disruptive and irresponsible way.

“There’s a lot of extra pedestrian traffic on Unofficial, and it’s important that drivers and pedestrians alike slow down and pay attention to what’s going on around them,” Wade wrote. “We also usually see an increase in medical transports for people who have had too much to drink.”

During Unofficial, there is an influx of people coming to campus to celebrate that don’t attend the University. Block said she feels every other weekend can be just as fun.

“We’re the place to be all the time anyways,” Block said. “I’ll take a ‘W’ for once this weekend.”

Block said she plans to spend her weekend back at home, attending her little sister’s junior high musical.

Despite taking a hiatus for this premature St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Block is not opposed to Unofficial. For those who are not choosing to partake in the festivities but remain on campus, Block encouraged them to try people-watching. For the partiers already clearing space in their fridge, Block hopes they stay safe.

In terms of other students departing from campus for the weekend, James Long, Director of Operations for Peoria Charter in Urbana, said it may still be too early in the week to get official numbers on how many ticket holders plan on leaving Champaign for the weekend.

“Students have a tendency to book tickets last minute. We expect more ticket sales later on in the week,” Long said.

Long said there was once a “Hopper” that brought students from surrounding schools to campus for Unofficial. While this specific bus no longer runs, Long said it was easy to spot the greater amount of people migrating down coinciding with the date of Unofficial.

From current ticket sales, Long said the amount of people leaving campus at the end of the week is lower compared to an average week, likely because of the desire to stick around for Unofficial festivities.

Although many students will be staying in Champaign for the weekend, Long wanted to remind everyone that safety is most important.

“There’s always the option to not drive yourself,” Long said. “We’re glad to be able to facilitate something that keeps students safe.”

Wade said the majority of people who cause trouble during Unofficial are students from other schools.

“In the past, we’ve had thousands of visitors, and frankly visitors tend to be the people who cause most of the problems. Our students generally know the rules and respect the campus,” Wade wrote.

The evolution of Unofficial over time is something that impressed Block. What at first was a stand in rebellion against St. Patrick’s Day falling during spring break when students would not be on campus has become a highly anticipated event, even imitated at other campuses like Eastern Illinois University.

Block wondered what it would be like if students’ energy was directed elsewhere, or if the momentum of Unofficial was put toward a cause.

Although it may just be another day in March, Block said she supports students who are looking to drink their hearts out, if it is what brings them joy.

The empowerment that accompanies the establishment of this day may or may not be applied to the student body rallying around something that doesn’t involve wearing green or consuming as many beers as possible, but for now Block said Unofficial is something to be proud of.

“Good on us, look what we created,” Block said.

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