One of the unique challenges to teaching at Indiana University is accomodating the annual ritual of binge drinking and disregard for public urination laws that accompanies the "Little 500" bike race, the event immortalized in the film Breaking Away. It combines everything an IU undergraduate holds dear: alcohol poisoning, dressing identically to one's bros/sisters at the frat/sorority, and skipping class. I suppose there is some sort of bike race as well, but that clearly is a tertiary concern.

Because the job of trying to motivate undergraduates through a sixteen week semester is not difficult enough, this event is jammed into the Spring semester one week before finals. To say that all academic activity on campus grinds to a halt for this spectacle is an understatement. In its place is all manner of generalized stupidity just as a normal teacher might be expecting to prepare his or her class for the final exam or set a due date for semester research papers. I mean, why go to class when you can get ballz drunk on Pucker at 9:00 AM? I haven't a good answer for that either, so don't feel bad.

Benefits to the non-undergraduate population of what is modestly advertised as "The World's Greatest College Weekend" include ankle-deep vomit on Jordan Avenue, the inability to get anywhere near campus, and visits from some of the biggest names in entertainment (in the eyes of an 18 year-old, I suppose). I don't want to brag about my town, but if you want to see Soulja Boy and Young Jeezy in rapid succession, this is the place to be right now.

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"This is how badly I want to win the Indiana Primary. Also, see Young Jeezy."

I must be getting old. I certainly sound like an old man brandishing a rake at kids who encroach upon his lawn. Regardless, there is clearly an age at which this type of spectacle – seven consecutive days of dawn-to-dusk drunkenness – loses its appeal. I know that some adults partake of this type of thing (i.e., Mardi Gras) but I doubt they can handle it physically all day, every day for a full week. The body just can't function on Keystone Light and Taco Bell at 7:30 in the morning in the harsh glare of adulthood. We need occasional sleep. We need a decent meal at semi-regular intervals. And unfortunately we have things to do. In my case that "thing" is trying to hold the attention of young people and perhaps even teach them something. If I sound crochety it results from the fact that the average IU student is not known for his studiousness at any point during the year; institutionalizing a week right before finals during which the campus-wide interest in academics drops to zero feels like fate, nature, and the Higher Power giving us the finger. The University, for its part, is an enabler, all but winking and telling its vast herd of East Coast kids who couldn't get into Penn State "It's OK, we know what you came here for."

Cue loud barfing backed by the righteous, original beats of Soulja Boy.

16 thoughts on “NPF: BREAKING AWAY”

  • hoosier alumn says:

    uh, people do work during little 5' week. And the people who don't go drinking during the week every week.

  • I take some umbrage with this commentary. Well, actually not really. As a recent graduate of IU, I can say that the planning of Little 5 a week before finals is rare. Usually it is two weeks or so before the end of finals, which is a big difference. I pretty much stopped going to Little 5 parties after my sophomore year and I don't think I missed much. Too much emphasis is placed on partying around this event and it's almost always a bust. If you ask people what they did, most of them say they just sat around their apartments drinking or went to some party where the place got busted by cops that are in their accounting class. I just don't think from experiencing it for my first two years, it lives up to the hype.

  • "I know that some adults partake of this type of thing (i.e., Mardi Gras) but I doubt they can handle it physically all day, every day for a full week."

    Tell me about it. I moved to New Orleans 15 years ago. Then, Mardi Gras was thrilling, not least because my home on Napoleon Ave was right on the Uptown parade route. I didn't have to GO to Carnival parades, I didn't have to worry about parking or where to pee, I just walked out my door and there it was! For two full weeks! Woo-hooo!!

    And there it was the next year. And the next year. And the next year. And the next … as I slowly realized how trapped I was when the parades were rolling. You can get OUT of the parade lock-down zone in your car, sometimes, but the cops will not let you back in, not until very late. And if Grandma has a coronary during Bacchus, forget it. The EMS won't be able to get within blocks.

    It was thrilling at 38, knowing how many Mardi Gras fans would kill to get the easy access I had. Just walk out the door. Now, at 52……. I'm getting tired ……

  • Ahhh, breaking away. I went to see it with my girlfriend in senior year in high school. I remember that I enjoyed it. Just watched the trailer on imdb. Didn't recognize one scene from the movie. Where have all the brain cells gone.

  • I generally hate little 5 week. It always falls on my birthday, which means I can't go out to bars and get modestly inebriated unless I want to wait in long lines full of rowdy fratties, etc. One thing I do like about little 5 is the day after when all the people who were caught for illegal intox have to clean up the soccer stadium. :)

  • Oh how many times I had the same conversation:

    Student: "You can't have a major assignment due next week, it is Little 500 week!"

    Me: "Well first, Little 500 is only one day, not an entire week. Second, the assigment and the due date have been on the syllabus since the first day of class, so if you wanted to avoid having to work during the week before Little 500 you could have completed the assignment last week or even last month if you would have liked. Your current dilemma is a lack of planning on your part, not mine."

    Student: Pauses for blank deer in headlights stare, and then "But you can't have a major assignment due during Little 500 week, its like a rule or something."

    Good times!

  • you ask people what they did, most of them say they just sat around their apartments drinking or went to some party where the place got busted by cops that are in their accounting class.

    The cops are in accounting class? How cool!

    I mean, why go to class when you can get ballz drunk on Pucker at 9:00 AM? I haven’t a good answer for that either, so don’t feel bad.

    I love it when you do posts like this. "The Real Life of a Professor: what with kids the way they are today and all"

    Feel free to use that for the title of your book if you should wish to do so, by the way.

  • Ed – Try teaching _All the Shah's Men_ (a great narrative history of Iran and the CIA coup of Mossadegh in 1953) to a 9am US History class the day after "Patriots Day" aka as "Marathon Monday" which ostensibly is to recognize the annual running of the Boston Marathon. I feel your pain. Marathon Monday for 19-21 year olds means just as you suggest: a marathon day of drinking.
    At least we near the end – I always take solace in that M.M. is the surest sign of 1. spring in Boston (always lovely as it is in the Midbest) and 2. the freaking end of the semester.

  • frank castle says:

    Just wanted to tell you that boy, you are pouring gas on the fire. A lot of it. And that's cool if that's you're intent. But right now, your doing the exact same thing that Chick Publications does for Christianity. So, just wanted to point that out. Seriously, people are pointing at this website and saying 'See?"

  • Purdue sorostitutes from my highschool spent all day picking up trash around bloomington because they got caught with an open keystone at the villas. This makes me feel better about the fact that I chugged out of a strangers handle of heaven hill vodka last night.

  • Last Week: Little 5 Week (what happened to Weekend?) – no major assignments due
    This Week: Dead Week – no major assignments due
    Two Weeks: Finals Week – no major assignments due (have to study for exams, right?)

    This effectively means that the students stop attending class at Easter. It takes effort to place last in the Big Ten on the US News and World Report College survey. Way to go, IU!

  • Recovering Republican says:

    Wow, this is a well-written site. I'll be back, if you don't mind.

    I'm late to this thread but had to point out that, as a Penn State alumnus from exactly 20 years ago, I obviously don't recognize the specifics of IU tradition, but neither do I observe anything that would place IU as a catch for PSU castoffs in terms of our superior commitment to the principles of academia.

    But then, I've been out of the loop for a while.

    Briefly (to avoid approaching TMI territory), I'll just add that my experiences while attending the venerable institution are a part of the reason that alcohol and I parted company a while back.

    FYI, I would never have approached an instructor or professor about the fact that some assignment was due during some party period (which collectively encompassed about 2/3 of each semester). I knew he/she had his reasons and priorities to follow. And I had mine. Oh well.

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