This article contains discussions of sexual assault.
The start of October is an exciting time at USC for many reasons: the semester is almost halfway over, leaves are changing colors, sweater season is starting and most of all, Halloween is just around the corner. Halloween is a significant holiday for many USC students. It can be both a nostalgic reminder of childhood and a thrilling part of their new college lives.
In college, Halloween is more than just one day. The holiday is comprised of multiple days of themed parties and activities. For this reason, college students typically use the term "Halloweekend" to describe the holiday's numerous celebrations. In years when Halloween falls on the weekend, this term is sufficient. However, since the holiday falls on a Tuesday this year, Halloweekend has become Halloweek. In other words, Halloween parties will begin the week before October 31 and carry on until the holiday's actual date.
If Halloweek sounds excessive to older generations, there may be good reason. The New York Post reported that Gen Z is more invested in Halloween parties than previous generations, with 42 percent of Gen Zers responding that they take these themed gatherings "very seriously." According to one study, college students reported drinking about 1.4 more drinks during Halloweekend than they would consume on a typical weekend. The week before Halloween, one student, who requested to remain anonymous, sat down to give a better picture of what taking this holiday seriously looks like at USC. When asked if she believed there was any stigma surrounding students’ choices to stay in or go out on Halloween, the student said that there were many ways to celebrate Halloweekend.
“I think people expect you to go out on Halloween," she said. "It’s like ‘Oh, Halloweek! Halloweekend!’ All of that type of thing, but I haven’t met anyone that’s dead-set on going out every night this week. Everyone’s still like, ‘I have exams and other priorities too.’"
This mindset contradicted her expectations of what the common attitude towards partying at USC would be.
"In general, I think people are like 'Go out, have fun, experience it, you’re in college still,'" she said. "But I do think there’s less judgment than I expected.”
The general acceptance of people celebrating Halloween however they like is reflected in the many different activities students can choose to partake in. In addition to going to parties, USC students also go on ghost tours on the Horseshoe, have horror movie nights, paint pumpkins and simply hang out with friends.
While all of these forms of fun are more than acceptable, when looking at how to stay safe on the spookiest night of the year, it is important to think about parties in particular. The act of going out can have some serious safety concerns if students are not careful. By following some simple safety tips and watching out for each other, USC students can enjoy Halloween without fear.
There are always potential risks associated with college partying, but these hazards can be exacerbated by the extent of partying that occurs during Halloweek. The University of Maine Police Department found that dangerous drinking behavior on college campuses often "ramp[s] up" during Halloween season. This is in part due to the plethora of flavored hard alcohol frequently offered at college Halloween parties. Students may be unaware of the high alcohol content of the beverages they are consuming and therefore be more likely to get alcohol poisoning. On the topic, the University of Maine's Director of Drug and Alcohol Education Programs Lauri Sidelko said, "Nationally, Halloween is the second-ranked drinking holiday of the year. When you look at our college campus, it translates to our first because students aren't here for New Year's."
One of the potential dangers of unsafe partying, especially during Halloweek, is drinking and driving. Students may be unaware of how intoxicated they are if they do not know the contents of their drink. One way to avoid drinking and driving is to have a designated driver who will stay sober throughout the evening. Another option is to take advantage of ride-share services like Uber or Lyft. When using these ride-share services, students should use the app to identify the car type and license plate of the car that is supposed to be picking them up and make sure they match the driver's car. Samantha Josephson was a senior at USC when a man impersonating an Uber driver kidnapped and murdered her. The #WHATSMYNAME foundation, founded by Josephson's family in her honor, advises people to ask their driver "What's my name?" before getting in the vehicle to ensure that the driver is who they say they are.
As an alternative to traditional ride-share services, Safe Rides is a student-run service that allows female USC students to request or offer rides to each other. The resource is exclusively for women, making it a more safe and comfortable option for many. The GroupMe is open for any female USC student to join. The student interviewed has had positive experiences using the service.
"I’m always with someone, so it’s like we have a lot more strength in numbers. We’ve been using Safe Rides a lot when we go out.”
Another resource for USC students is the Rave Guardian app. One of its features is the ability to set a timer for walking from one place to another. Once at the chosen destination, the user shuts the timer off. However, if something were to happen and the timer ran out, USC law enforcement would be alerted. The app also allows users to share their location, submit anonymous tips to police and find various campus safety resources.
Not all students may find the app necessary, but it can be a major help to some. The student interviewed said, “I’ve heard kids in my class talking about using the apps and stuff like that, where you set the timer and that type of thing. I haven’t personally needed to use them." Even if some students don't think the Rave Guardian app is a good fit for them, that doesn't mean USC doesn't offer other programs that may be helpful.
USC has also implemented a variety of programs aimed at preventing substance and alcohol abuse and helping students who struggle with addiction. One way USC addresses alcohol and drug use on campus is through the required community education that all incoming students must complete. This training is typically completed before freshmen arrive on campus as a way for them to familiarize themselves with USC’s policies and educate themselves on safety. Once on campus, students have access to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Education office. This USC office provides resources for counseling and psychiatry, wellness and prevention, and sexual assault and violence intervention and prevention. One USC policy, known as the Good Samaritan Policy, means that students or student groups who receive or give help during an overdose situation will not be subject to violations of the Student Code of Conduct that are related to drug or alcohol use. The full conditions for this policy, and others related to alcohol and drugs, can be read on USC’s website. These programs and policies may be particularly useful to students with Halloween quickly approaching.
Another safety concern that party-goers face is drink spiking. Drink spiking is "when a person deliberately adds alcohol or another drug to someone's drink without them knowing." Gray Forsberg, a former USC student, wrote an analysis of drugged drinking at USC for her Honors College senior thesis in Spring 2023. In her study, 22 percent of the individuals surveyed responded that they had been victims of drink spiking while students at the university. The student interviewed was certainly aware of this potential risk.
“Me and my friends collectively decided we don’t like some bars more than others because they’ve been known for roofieing people and they’ve been known for having owners that support that type of thing," she said. "So it's like, ‘OK, we won’t go out there.’”
Some ways that USC students can work to avoid drink spiking is by always buying their own drinks and making sure they watch it being poured, not accepting drinks from strangers, never leaving their drinks unattended, not tasting someone else's drink and throwing away their drink if it tastes strange or different.
Drink spiking is a symptom of a larger problem faced on college campuses: sexual assault. A study from Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network revealed that 11 percent of students experience sexual violence during their time at college. What makes this statistic even more startling is that it only accounts for sexual assaults reported to police. Sexual violence frequently goes unreported, making it difficult to fully understand its scope. However, there does seem to be a correlation between the more extensive partying of Halloween and higher reported cases of sexual violence. According to the Colorado State University public safety team, "Halloween weekend accounts for 5-7 percent of all cases [of sexual assaults]" that go through their Student Conduct System every year.
While it is important to use safety tips like having a buddy system and keeping an eye on drinks, sexual assault is never the survivor's fault. In an article published in Evie, Meghan Dillon shares her story of being sexually assaulted at a Halloween party her freshman year of college and reminds survivors.
"It doesn't matter what you're wearing or how much you had to drink," Dillon said. "The blame is entirely on the assailant, and there's no excuse for his or her violent behavior. To all sexual assault and rape survivors reading this, never forget that it's not your fault."
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673. USC's resources for supporting survivors can be found on their website.
Talking about the dangers associated with going out can be depressing or scary, but being cognizant of potential hazards can protect USC students as they go out this Halloween or any time of the year. It's important to acknowledge safety concerns, but that does not mean they should prevent students from celebrating as they choose. USC students can focus on creating a safe environment that is supportive of each individual's choice to go in, stay out or do anything in between. While there's no perfect way to stay safe, the student interviewed feels that by taking some precautions, it is easy to have a good time in a secure way.
“I don’t feel like any party or any bar is going to be 100 percent safe, but because we’re all together, I’m never feeling that on edge," she said. "We’re all looking out for each other.” Finding a sense of community is essential to feeling safe and supported. This Halloween, USC students should lean into their own communities as they celebrate the season.
What is this student most excited about for Halloween?
“I’m just really excited for it to be warm, first of all, and I’m excited for it just to be like a completely different experience," she said. "It’s focused on me and my friends and what we want to do. I’m excited for all of the videos from home of my girls [that I nanny], just all of it. It will be a different experience than I’m used to, but it will be really fun."
Stay safe and have a very happy Halloween, Gamecocks.