Proposed beer pong ban sparks controversy among residents, students


Illustration by Jacob Fulton

Cups staged for a game of beer pong. Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) brought a potential ban on public drinking games to a Nov. 2 Human Services Committee meeting.

Maia Spoto, Development and Recruitment Editor

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) proposed a ban on public drinking games, which she said were “devastating” some Evanston neighborhoods, at a Nov. 2 Human Services Committee meeting.

Fiske said the ban could be modeled after a 2005 Belmar, New Jersey ordinance that prohibits outdoor drinking games visible from public vantage points and adjacent properties. If passed, residents would not be allowed to play games like beer pong on their front yards, porches or decks. But some stakeholders have raised concerns about the legality and ethics of the ban, especially amid calls to reduce the power of the police.

Evanston resident Julie Johnson supports the ban, and said at the Nov. 2 meeting that she has a “fundamental desire” for peace and quiet on her street. A resident of the city for 24 years, Johnson said student parties have started to significantly disturb her quality of life.

“We’re talking about student houses that are full of people age 19 to 22, (who have) never lived outside the home, alcohol is available, and now they’re playing games,” Johnson said. “What you have is people screaming and yelling when they win a point, or when they lose… it’s making it very difficult to enjoy life on our block.”

Johnson said student partiers have cursed out at neighbors who ask them to quiet down, and landlords have dismissed her noise complaints. A beer pong ban, Johnson said, could deter students from partying loudly in her neighborhood.

At the meeting, Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said she recognizes the city needs to manage student partying. But she said the wording of the proposed ban could create a slippery legal slope.

“Where does it end?” Rue Simmons said. “Say I want to have a glass of wine in my front yard and also play tic-tac-toe. Has that now become a drinking game?”

Rue Simmons said she doesn’t want police involved in matters of social drinking for residents of legal age. Instead of criminalizing beer pong, Rue Simmons said the city could potentially issue tickets to outdoor drinking game participants.

However, Rue Simmons said, the responsibility for disturbances related to student partying should ultimately lie with Northwestern — not the city.

Fiske said University Police generally do not respond to calls about off-campus student partying, and conversations with the University about addressing the noise complaints are “not going anywhere.”

When Evanston Patch asked the University about Northwestern’s capacity to ticket students engaging in drinking games off-campus, University spokesperson Jon Yates declined to comment, and said administrators review “any reports of student behavior.”

McCormick sophomore Derek Hassan said he’s concerned a beer pong ban would drive social gatherings indoors, increasing transmission of COVID-19. Additionally, Hassan said a ban could make some students more hesitant to report unsafe behavior or seek medical attention.

John Jack Soler, another McCormick sophomore, said he feels the proposed ban would interfere unreasonably with student life.

“People have been drinking on their lawns every Saturday and Sunday for the past hundred years,” Soler said. “It wouldn’t really affect me too much, considering I don’t have a lawn, but it made me angry.”

Other residents said a potential ban would increase the power of the police in a time when activists are calling for its reduction. Evanston resident Jeremy Vannatta said the proposed ban is “misguided and ill-timed.”

“It’s an archaic understanding of the purpose of police and will likely result in even more racial biases against gamers — Black and brown,” Vanatta said at the Nov. 2 meeting. “Issues related to beer pong can be addressed as a community, rather than utilizing our tax dollars.”

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Twitter: @maia_spoto

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