OSHKOSH (AP) - When University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh seniors Jake White and Steven Vanevenhoven were freshmen, they engaged in behavior that they felt put them on the fringe of their peers.
They didn't drink alcohol.
They went to house parties with their friends, who had fewer qualms about drinking, despite being underage. But being there without drinks in hand made them feel like they stood out - like they were doing something wrong, they told the Oshkosh Northwestern.
"The pressure is always there," White said. "We wanted a place to belong. I remember, going to house parties my freshman year, I would actually leave the party thinking, 'What's wrong with me? What am I not doing right? All I want to do is make a healthy choice.' It's kind of sick that that's what you have to do to feel accepted."
Throughout college, White learned how to cope with the "social barrier" of abstaining from alcohol, and grew confident in his ability to hold his own in environments where others were drinking. He learned how to defend his decision to abstain without making others feel like he was attacking their decision to drink - because one of the biggest barriers, he said, is people think you're judging them when you don't drink.
For White, the decision not to consume alcohol has several layers: respect for his body, family members who have dealt with alcoholism, and a desire to learn how to excel in social situations without relying on alcohol as a crutch. For others, the reasons are different. But White and Vanevenhoven both knew they couldn't be the only students searching for an alternative to the college drinking scene.
According to the university's 2011 Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse survey, 73 percent of UWO students said they drink alcohol. Of those surveyed, 45 percent were younger than 21, and 55 percent were of the legal drinking age.
White and Vanevenhoven issued their own survey, and found that 93 percent of students who responded said if there was a party without alcohol, with a deejay and games, they would attend.
After assembling a list of 120 students who asked to receive text messages when such a party was held, Party.0 was born through White's and Vanevenhoven's partnership.
The first party, held last fall, only drew 80 people - but the largest party drew 180. Every party has a DJ, and attendees play card games, board games and alcohol-free variations on popular drinking games. Think water pong instead of beer pong, and flippy cup with pizza in lieu of beer. Seeing the demand, some businesses have started donating food and gift cards for the "sober parties." The biggest challenge, White said, is finding venues close to campus that are large enough to host the parties - but several fraternities have hosted them in their houses, which provide the ideal setting.
Kyle Ketterhagen, 21, attended a Party.0 hosted at his fraternity house on Feb. 2. For Beta Theta Pi, it's a great way to give back to the community and create an environment where students can have fun responsibly, Ketterhagen said.
"I think it's something everyone should look into," Ketterhagen said while donning an American flag cape for the party's "'Merica" theme. "You don't need to drink to have fun. That's not to say you can't have fun drinking, but it doesn't need to be everything."
The Feb. 2 party was Melanie Hansen's first. The 21-year-old said she was looking for an opportunity to have fun without alcohol, which she thinks introduces a lot of unnecessary foolish behavior. She said her decision not to drink is largely a religious one, as a Christian.
"I just like having fun without the need to add a chemical into it," Hansen said. "Just being yourself without needing something else to make you more fun. Really getting to know people for who they really are, without the need for alcohol."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Capital Credit Union is offering to match donations made to Salvation Army red kettles in the Fox Valley on Friday.
With just two weeks until Christmas, the Postal Service says it's heading into its busiest times. But are folks still sending letters of holiday cheer?
The cold weather this week has people thinking of the area's homeless population.
The large downtown fire in Ripon Wednesday is having a widespread effect.
UW-Oshkosh's third biodigester to create green energy is now officially open.
Fire destroyed a house in Kewaunee County Wednesday afternoon.