Kegs! Under the Bleachers?

Sigma Phi Epsilon advertising a party at the Auto Auction (“Auto Auction”).

We don’t really need to be “James Madison University” (Myers).  We just want to party like a university.

Student bodies exist in a state of constant motion as seniors graduate and freshmen enter, yet JMU students never relinquished their determination for greater liberalized alcohol regulations.  Just as the administration revisited and reformed policies, students, led by the SGA, demanded campus party facilities and kegs in dorms.  Students expected Madison to fulfill its “university” label.

Demands for a Party Facility

Students of legal age longed for a public facility where they could hold larger parties with kegs.  The administration agreed to determine a “suitable location” (Amann, “College may rent,” 1) and announced plans to rent the Auto Auction, located just South of Harrisonburg, by the fall of 1976 (Amann, “College to schedule”, 5).  Dr. William Hall, the vice president for student affairs, cited the preference of an off-site location to reduce the “cost in problems and vandalism of an on-campus keg party.”  He continued to explain that the Office of Residence Halls would fund the rental fees (Amman, “College may rent,” 1), but transportation remained the responsibility of hosting organizations (Amman, “College to schedule, 5).  Furthermore, the administration made available “college farm, campus center and Chandler’s Shenandoah Room.” All facilities required valid “banquet licenses” acquired prior to the event by a “formal” hosting organization as stated by Virginia law (“Licenses mandatory,” 3).  It seems that the administration funded off-campus parties hoping for better crowd control while satisfying the desires of students.  It also may have been an attempt to reassert the “adult status” of students and their organizations.

Whatever the intentions, the Auto-Auction party zone fizzled within less than a year and students renewed pleas for party accommodations.  By the fall of 1977, Auto-Auction owners reduced accessibility to students citing increased use by other groups and lack of sufficient bathroom facilities for crowds greater than six hundred (Dulan, “Auto Auction,” 1).  Perhaps even more telling, an article in The Breeze acknowledged frustrations when the SGA hosts of the previous school year, as well as others, failed to properly clean the building after parties (Burch, “Use of Auto,” 1,4).  Additionally, “the Auto Auction was raided by ABC agents” and two students faced arrest as agents increasingly enforced state laws (Burch, “Hardy, Lumpkin,” 8).  In the aftermath, SGA members quickly passed a resolution calling for the “absolute need on the JMU campus for a facility” to accommodate large gatherings which they reiterated throughout the 1977 fall semester (“SGA Minutes” October 4, 1977). Officials granted their request by providing a facility “under the bleachers” of the stadium as a trial before granting students additional alcohol freedoms (Dulan, “Dorm alcohol,” 1).  It appears that the administration realized the need for accountability and decided that further liberalization of alcohol policies must be earned. Leadership tested the responsibilities of students to handle group parties while they worked out the intricacies of state ABC laws.

This sign probably read “No alcohol” and someone tore the “No” off. Ironically, alcohol was permitted “under” the stadium. (Leverone).

Providing a Safe Haven

As the campus continued to grow, the administration sought a workable solution to the alcohol problems.  More students remained on campus throughout the weekends according to Mike Webb, director of residence halls (Burch, “Webb:  no ‘implied,’ 11).  This led to an increased desire of campus entertainment, including parties.  While William Johnson, associate director of student affairs, explained the “primary purpose” remained focused on education, he expressed concern for the growing alcohol-related arrests.  Johnson stated “it’s our duty to keep Madison students from getting arrested” (Armstrong, “College’s job,” 7).

Though administrators lacked the ability to protect students beyond campus boundaries, they did make adjustments to campus security. Local police were required by law to arrest violators, so Dr. Carrier relieved them from night patrols and replaced them with security cadets (Carrier).  Cadets often issued “incident reports” merely used as “scare tactics” for freshmen and instructed anyone with an open marked container to simply empty it.  As cadet Richard Coon explained in an interview, students need “to carry their beer in cups when walking around campus” to avoid problems.  Cadet Jim Casey responded that “we’re much more lenient with students who drink in public than the campus or city police” (Eacho, “Spending an evening,” 3).  Carrier stressed that students needed room to mature and develop independently without the fears of an arrest record (Carrier).  The activities of thousands of student weekenders had begun to test the infrastructure of a small conservative town, while administrators sought a safe environment in which students could experiment.

Click to learn more about the security cadets (Eacho, “The eyes, 3).

Images Cited:

Cover and top image:  Leverone, Robert J. Photographer, “Alcohol Inside Stadium,” 1979 Bluestone, Harrisonburg, Virginia:  James Madison University, 1979, Accessed 4/3/12 from; Background added by Charity Derrow in Adobe Photoshop Elements, April 3, 2012.

“Auto Auction,” The Breeze, October 5, 1976, 12. Framed by Charity Derrow, Adobe Photoshop, April 12, 2012.

Eacho, Louis, “The eyes and ears of JMU,” The Breeze, September 11, 1979.

Works Cited:

Amann, Sandy, “College may rent rooms for parties,” The Breeze, February 10, 1976.

Amann, Sandy, “College to schedule parties at Auction,” The Breeze, September 9, 1976.

Armstrong, Cutch, “College’s job to avoid arrest,” The Breeze, March 1, 1977.

Burch, Barbara, “Hardy, Lumpkin plead guilty, fined:  State ABC increasing enforcement of laws,” The Breeze, January 18, 1977.

Burch, Barbara, “Webb:  no ‘implied crackdown’ on alcohol,” The Breeze, December 3, 1976.

Burch, Barbara, “Use of Auto Auction threatened: Owner cites clean-up failure after SGA party,” The Breeze, February 18, 1977.

Carrier, Ronald, Dr. “Class Lecture,” History 337 Local History Workshop, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, March 14, 2012.

Dulan, Tom, “Auto Auction use reduced:  Four dates available to student groups,” The Breeze, September 13, 1977.

Dulan, Tom, “Dorm alcohol proposal delayed,” The Breeze, December 2, 1977.

Eacho, Louis, “Spending an evening patrolling the campus,” The Breeze, September 11, 1979.

“Licenses mandatory for the sale of alcohol,” The Breeze, October 26, 1976.

Myers, Susanne, “Class Lecture,” History 337 Local History Workshop, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, April 2, 2012. Myers explained that the majority of students did not want their school to change its name from Madison College to James Madison University.

“SGA Minutes,” Control #SGA 2001-1010, Student Government Association Papers, Box 1, Series 2, Folder 3, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, October 4, 1977.