116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Tens of thousands of students are preparing to descend on Iowa’s public universities next week, and all three communities are making preparations — including in Ames, where the City Council is weighing enhanced nuisance party penalties before the fall semester starts.
Iowa State University in Ames also is co-opting that weekend — which has become unofficially known as “801 day,” a type of drinking holiday — in hopes of curtailing the alcohol-fueled mayhem, noise complaints and parking problems.
“The unofficial event of 801-day is being transitioned to an official ISU event, Cyclone Welcome Weekend,” according to Ames City Council documents. “The university has created several activities to take the focus off alcohol use and overuse and steer activities toward community events and safer alternatives.”
For those who insist on perpetuating the partying, council members on Tuesday will consider sharpening the teeth of Ames’ party laws for between 5 p.m. Aug. 19 and 4 a.m. Aug. 21 — a move made possible by an ordinance passed just over a week ago allowing for enhanced nuisance party penalties.
801 back story
The “phenomenon” of 801 day in Ames began years ago when alcohol was barred from fraternities and sororities during the week before classes, according to City Council documents.
Because the prohibition ended at 8 a.m. on the Saturday before classes started, some students began drinking at 8:01 a.m. — earning it the label “801 day” and escalating over time into a weekend of heavy drinking, illegal parking, nuisance parties and other high-risk behavior, according to council documents.
“In the late 2010s, these behaviors on the Saturday before classes began to grow beyond a small segment of the ISU population,” according to council documents. “The date has increasingly become a destination for people from outside Ames and is no longer limited to ISU students.”
The partying has sparked complaints — including in fall 2020, at the height of COVID-19, when images of students convening for tightly-packed house parties over the weekend circulated nationally.
“Last weekend the nation saw an example of this type of behavior by many of our students participating in large gatherings and parties,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen wrote in a campus message on Aug. 21, 2020. “This is unacceptable and must stop. It puts the health and safety of our campus and community at risk, and it jeopardizes our ability to continue with an on-campus experience and in-person classes and activities.”
Last year, city and ISU leadership — along with the Ames and ISU police departments — began discussing methods to minimize 801 day-related harms by refocusing the events.
“The university has created several activities to take the focus off alcohol use and overuse and steer activities toward community events and safer alternatives,” City Council documents say.
The new official “Cyclone Welcome Weekend” involves two days of activities on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 — with classes beginning Aug. 22. Partying alternatives include outdoor showings of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Spiderman: No Way Home” on the south campanile lawn and an evening performance from hypnotist Chris Jones from NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
This year’s “Destination Iowa State” program welcoming new-to-ISU students to campus also runs through Aug. 20 and involves late-night bingo and bowling, for example.
“All Cyclone Welcome Weekend events are alcohol and substance free,” according to the ISU website.
The University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa also have days of activities planned for the throngs of students arriving — including spirit nights, karaoke, bingo, movies, kickball and a campus president’s “block party” at the UI.
For additional focus on enforcement at ISU, Ames police are proposing temporarily raising fines for nuisance party violations from $100 on first offense and $200 on a second to $650 for a first offense and $855 for each subsequent offense on the dates and times outlined in the council resolution.
The lower fines seem to be “an insufficient deterrent to nuisance parties on the Saturday before classes,” according to the city.
Some parties at private homes have reached 400 to 500 people and involved “underage drinking, fights, noise above what is allowed by the noise ordinance, public intoxication, spilling onto neighboring property, public urination, and other inappropriate activities.”
The city is considering passing the temporarily penalties two weeks in advance of the weekend to give officials time to spread the word. Both police and ISU staff plan to go door to door to notify residents of the new penalties, email property managers and owners about the change, and use the media to announce the higher fines.
“In addition, the university has agreed to send out notifications to students and staff to make them aware of the new towing policy as a part of a larger campaign regarding Cyclone Welcome Weekend,” according to the City Council.
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