The University of Texas at Austin can lay claim to more national titles this year than their glorious football championship.
While Brigham Young University was ranked No. 1 on the Princeton Review's annual "Top Stone-Cold Sober School" list — the Longhorns of U of T took the top spot as the Review's "Top Party School."
Such recognition likely prompted a few college cheers from some local frat houses and the Texas students who frequent Austin's many watering holes. But for the teetotaling LDS students enrolled at Texas, the top spot party designation caused little more than a shrug. They were probably having too much of a good time (institute style) to notice.
"We are making our own kind of fun," said Texas sophomore and faithful institute-goer Michelle Ferry.
Austin's LDS institute is located just a short walk from the University of Texas at Austin campus. A large percentage of the institute's student body are Texas students. Many more hail from nearby Austin Community College.
Thanks to Austin's vibrant live music tradition, there are dozens of bars and clubs located just off campus. It's easy for students to find a drink and a party, said Austin Institute Director R. Scott Simmons.
Institute offers an alternative said Brother Simmons.
Some 350 students are enrolled in the Austin institute this year. Besides offering a wide range of standard institute gospel courses, the program also provides LDS students a place to come together and socialize with fellow young people who share common values and beliefs. Besides a number of classrooms, the institute building includes areas where students can relax, cram for tests and sidestep some of the more unsavory aspects of Austin college life.
"It's like a haven," said Michael Perrone, a Texas senior and returned missionary who, ironically, was assigned to the stone-cold sober BYU campus while serving in the Utah Provo Mission.
LDS students say having a well-organized, active institute program has helped round out their college experience.
Eighteen-year-old Michelle Ferry had never lived away from her home in Brigham City, Utah, when she accepted a music scholarship into Texas' prominent cello program. Just days into her freshman orientation she witnessed the sort of partying among the other new students that apparently snagged the Princeton Review's attention.
"I had never seen partying like I saw here," said Michelle.
Fortunately, she had made contact with the institute and an Austin-area singles ward prior to arriving on campus. Despite the eye-opening partying on campus, Michelle had an immediate place to call home and feel comfortable.
"I had been told that the institute would become like my family," Michelle said. That prediction, she added, has been realized.
Michael Perrone said he has never felt a need to join the university's party scene because there are so many fun things to do at institute. Each month, the Austin institute hosts several socials — including at least one dance. Many of the dances have light-hearted, sometimes silly themes. "Once we had a 'pink dance' — everyone came wearing pink," said Michael, laughing.
An Austin native, Michael sometimes wonders what his college years would have been like without institute.
"It would have been really hard for me to find a place on campus and still live my values."
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