In 1979, University of Connecticut announced that its last single-sex dorms would be turned into co-ed dorms. This announcement evoked a fiery response from the student body, nicknamed the “End of the World Party,” a disaster which caused over $15,000 in damages to the university.
According to a Daily Campus article from May 24, 1979, the “End of the World Party” involved students of the all-male Harriet Beecher Stowe Hall filling the school grounds with garbage, starting bonfires with dorm furniture and shattering windows in response to the dormitory becoming co-ed the following fall term.
Tim Friar, a junior resident assistant in Stowe in 1979, was interviewed by the New York Times for an eyewitness account of the party. Friar, a now 1980 UConn Alum, explained the party was a student response to the administrative changes.
“The students of Stowe were angry that they were being told how their future was going to look. The theme 'End of the World' was symbolic of the all male dorm's 'world' coming to an end,” Friar said in an email. “The End of the World Party was a perfect storm with angry students, very liberal drinking policies, finals week and springtime. (I) can’t even imagine what would have happened if social media was available.”
According to the 1979 New York Times article “Mann Students Face ‘Disciplinary Action’ For Campus Rampage,” male residents of Stowe Hall ordered fifty kegs of beer and organized a party with over 2,000 students. That party fueled the transformation of typical end-of-exams celebrations into mass vandalism and student hysteria.
“I was a junior RA in Stowe that knew how badly something meant to be fun could go wrong or sideways. The campus police were reinforced by several towns’ worth of police and I still have visions of mounted state troopers,” Friar told the Daily Campus. “Much needless destruction took place and several bonfires lit the skies of South, fueled with dorm furniture. Candidly, the only saving grace was it rained that night or the attendance would have been even bigger.”
Friar recounts that a reporter from the New York Times, Matthew Wald, was dispatched to campus the morning after to find a student to comment.
“I was candidly embarrassed by the whole thing. My response to the reporter's questions were as tongue-in-cheek as a 20-year-old could muster,” Friar said. “Imagine my shock when my father called the dorm 'house phone' to ask how I was doing. Upon hearing I was OK, he stated that he liked my quote in the Sunday New York Times which he happened to be reading that morning.”
In the New York Times article, Friar was quoted as saying, “This dorm has a reputation for wildness. A lot of residents were unhappy that the reputation was going to be taken away.”
According to Friar, the New York Times article was a unique experience to reflect back on the “End of the World Party” forty years later, especially in light of today’s challenges to promote free speech without resorting to violence.
“My feelings on being a source (for) the event are mixed. I sometimes question whether there was a single positive thing that came out of that party,” Friar said. “The changes (to UConn) over the past 30 years (have) been huge and too many to list. Many of them for the better. My wife and I are still very active as proud alums.”
Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.