Socializing Beyond the Socials

Most students have a favorite story of police breaking up a party they attended. Last year, one of my orchestra parties was broken up in Seelye. You may expect orchestra members to be crazy party animals, but (un)surprisingly the majority of orchestra party funds are used to purchase snacks and soda since most orchestra members do not drink. The image of a police officer in Seelye breaking up 35 orchestra members (some in tuxedos) eating cheese and crackers and drinking some alcohol makes most people laugh. But these types of stories unfortunately dominate student discussions of parties on campus. Unsafe and irresponsible partying is happening — that is no surprise. The problem is that the potential for random police walk-throughs in our safer party spaces pushes parties out of these spaces, and the protection of a private social common room pulls parties into the Socials.

The distinct culture in the Socials lowers our standards of what is socially acceptable and, more importantly, what is socially responsible. Guys creepily grinding on girls without saying a word is an unfortunate staple of the Socials party scene, and the weekly destruction of social common rooms, windows and bathrooms demonstrates the high intensity of Saturday nights. The large, well-lit common rooms in the Triangle, on the Hill and in Lipton, on the other hand, are the ideal spaces for parties on Saturday nights. So why do students not use our safest party spaces? Simply put, the highest enforcement of alcohol policy occurs in our safest social spaces since police officers can walk through these public common rooms at anytime.

Small, dark and cramped social common rooms offer the least safe party environments, and yet most parties happen in the Socials. College planners did not design the Socials to host parties since, at the time, fraternities held campus parties in their respective houses. Because social common rooms have a door and are technically private, campus police need probable cause to enter. The legal protection of these private common rooms incentivizes students to host parties in the Socials. Even if we assume that campus police officers try to enforce alcohol policy equally in all spaces, the fact that a social common room is private means that the police cannot enforce alcohol policy as easily in the Socials. Therefore, alcohol policy becomes most strongly enforced where it is most easily enforced, which is unfortunately our socially safer spaces.
If students in a social common room are not dancing on the windowsill, not leaving with alcohol and not overflowing into the stairwell, it is very unlikely that the police will stop the party. Police officers may stay in the stairwell, but this “worst case” scenario ironically is less risky to the party hosts than potentially holding an unregistered party in the public common rooms in the Triangle or on the hill. By choosing not to risk their party being broken up, students allow more actually risky and undesirable behavior to occur.

The College, through its alcohol policies, should be pushing students out of the Socials and into our safer spaces. The College could take quick action to improve the safety of our party scene. Police officers should stay down in the Socials where they are needed on Saturday nights. In addition, students should not have to reserve public common rooms three days in advance; rather students should be able to use our public spaces with only twelve-hours notice. We do not need 24 hours advanced notice that our common room is being used for a party. We know our schedules, and we check our emails frequently.

Administrators should be allies of safe parties, not simply enemies of unsafe ones. Administrators should encourage students to use our public common rooms and once a public space is reserved, the college should not require students to register the party.

The College sets the bureaucratic bar too high for students to ever register parties. First students must meet with an administrator at least a week in advance. At the party, students who drink are not allowed to intermingle with students under 21. The fragmentation caused by a separate over-21 room is counterproductive for the purpose of a community-building party.

A recent approved plan for an Oktoberfest party in the German House allowed students to intermingle. The College should codify this policy immediately. However, the financial cost of registering a party is prohibitively high. Students can expect to pay an additional $150 total for a bartender and student security. With a total yearly theme house budget of $903, the prospect of the German House spending a sixth of its budget simply on security is preposterous. Once again, a safe party does not occur, and students spend their time down in the Socials.

Student culture also needs to change. If a student calls a noise complaint we cannot blame the police or “The Administration.” People who live in apartments do not automatically call the police if their neighbor is loud. Likewise, we should respect our fellow students enough to attempt to get in contact with party hosts and to turn down our music if it is too loud. Text your RC or your neighbors before calling the police.

Another program or a TAP is not always the answer to safe Saturday night options. We cannot “program” our way to an improved social scene. Students should be given more responsibility in throwing safer parties, and we should be given a better opportunity to succeed in creating and using our safer spaces.