We’ve all had our fair share of party frustration, in some form or another. Maybe you never bother to go out on the weekends because none of the parties offered are your idea of a good time; maybe you are among the throngs of people who spend the hour between 11pm and midnight rotating impatiently through Olde Club, Paces, and the frats, arriving at each place only to declare it insufficiently crowded and leave swiftly to avoid the awkwardness; maybe you’ve tried to throw your own party and experienced the myriad stresses of permits and permissions, kegs and taps, and then either empty rooms or unruly crowds.
There’s an unwritten rule that Swarthmore’s academic rigor entitles and drives us to a vigorous nightlife. In other words: work hard, play hard. But there are some obstacles between Swatties and their playing hard. Some of those obstacles are new, as a result of the newest party policy changes, which were put in place in the fall of 2014. The new party policy banned hard alcohol and alcohol-related “paraphernalia” at all registered parties. Perhaps the most significant change was the closing of a loophole known as the “DJ fund,” by which students could secure funding from the college, which was, on paper, designated for paying a DJ but was in reality used to buy alcohol for party attendees. A year and a half after these changes were made, how are the party kids of Swarthmore faring?
Doriana Thornton ’16 looks back fondly on parties during their first years at Swat, but also praised certain aspects of the school’s more recent party scene. For one thing, they noted that the queer party scene has gotten stronger, largely as a result of the increased involvement of non-Swat students. (Thanks to the hard organizing work of some SQU leaders, a mixer and party that were held in the fall brought students from across the Tri-Co and as far as Villanova and Temple to both Olde Club and Paces. Many of those students returned for the next SQU party, and the second annual “TriQueer” party is taking place next weekend at Haverford.)
Thornton also lauded off-campus parties such as those hosted in the Barn, where they currently live.
“We get to design them a little more, conceptually,” they commented. “It’s just fun to go to the Barn, the Barn’s a lot of fun.”
Thornton, for their part, appreciates being able to get away from campus and the restrictions of the administration and Public Safety. They noted that the school seems to be cracking down more heavily on drugs than they did in previous years. They pointed out that, in general, the increased regulation at the college is a result of the school being federally investigated (for its handling of sexual assault), and that the downsides of this regulation are not significant compared to the benefits of the college being held accountable for sexual assault.
Emma Kates-Shaw ’16 also commented on the changing rules as they relate to the call for the college to take sexual assault more seriously.
“We asked for reform and we got it, but what that reform ended up doing was pushing people towards the spaces where that problem was in the first place. And that’s something that I don’t know if the administration knows,” Kates-Shaw explained, referencing the fact that recent rule changes have largely pushed party-goers towards fraternity parties.
Kates-Shaw is sympathetic to the administration, despite being critical of the new policies.
“I don’t think we should be vilifying the administration, because it’s not the administration’s fault that they have to abide by the new rules. I just don’t think that they know what the consequences of that are. They don’t know that it’s pushing people either towards the frats or towards drinking in their room,” Kate-Shaw said.
Kates-Shaw said that she personally doesn’t feel comfortable in the frats, and that she thinks alternative party spaces are important to the Swat social scene.
Kathleen Baryenbruch, who started as part of the class of 2016 but took a year off after her sophomore year (and will now graduate in 2017), was disappointed, when she came back, to see how the party scene had changed as a result of the new party policy.
“There used to be more alternatives to the frats,” Baryenbruch recalled. She noted that while fraternities get a lot of criticism on campus, she thinks they serve a certain purpose. “I just think it’s a shame that there are less alternatives now,” she continued.
Baryenbruch herself has been in the process of planning a party that would be one of those alternatives. “It’s supposed to be a throwback, a nostalgic old-style Paces party,” she explained. For the underclassmen among us, those words don’t mean much, but many current juniors and seniors — who witnessed the days of the DJ fund — remember a time when Paces parties were frequent, well-populated, and provided a reliable venue for a certain type of partying.
Baryenbruch said the process of organizing a party through the OSE has been difficult. Anyone who wants to do this now has to submit both a space reservation request and a party permit request. Baryenbruch didn’t receive any confirmation on her space reservation, and a month later (after applying for a party permit) was told that the space had been reserved since before she filled out the initial form. The party has been pushed to a later weekend, but Baryenbruch is unhappy with how the OSE has handled it.
“It just seems like their priority is no longer helping people throw these parties that I think would help bring the campus together,” she observed. She attributed this difficulty both to the new policies, and to the way that the administration interacts with people trying to throw such parties.
Kates-Shaw has also spent much of her energy this semester organizing and hosting parties. She is part of this year’s “pub crew,” a group of students who have taken on the task of fundraising for, planning, setting up for, and cleaning up after Pub Nite each week. This is technically the role of senior class officers (up until last year, Pub Nite was a senior class fundraiser and students paid a few dollars at the door each night), but Kates-Shaw says the two roles are separating.
“I’m so intent on making Pub Nite happen because I feel like it’s sort of the last party for the people, by the people,” she explained.
Kates-Shaw emphasized how much logistical work goes into pulling off Pub Nite week after week, and described the job as, largely, thankless.
“The infrastructure isn’t there anymore, is what the bottom line is. There’s no set of rules. There’s no handbook that gets passed down.” Currently, the “pub crew” only has enough money to hold two more Pub Nites this semester, unless they receive another influx of donations.
Kates-Shaw lauded Pub Nite and other non-frat parties as spaces that generate social connections among Swatties who otherwise may not meet. She said that the new policies push people to drink in their rooms with their friends, or to go to frat parties which have limited opportunities for socializing.
“That breaks my heart,” Kates-Shaw said.
She also noted that the way the Swarthmore party scene works doesn’t provide space or time for students to learn to drink responsibly, in moderation, over meals or in casual situations.
“That’s adult drinking, that’s a good skill to learn if you are someone who chooses to drink as an adult. It’s important to learn how not to binge drink.”
The lack of variety in parties and social life in general also means that for some members of the Swarthmore community, there are no parties to go to.
Min Cheng ’18, rarely goes out on weekend nights anymore.
“I don’t go to parties that often, just because people get very inconsiderate when they’re drunk. So usually it’s me — a small person — in with a bunch of sweaty tall people hitting me with their elbows.”
As a first year, she used to go out with a group of friends who lived on her hall, but she explained that the Swat social scene is not friendly to people who don’t have a friend group to go out with.
She also stopped going to the fraternities over a year ago. She explained that she used to jokingly tell people she was boycotting them, but that it has become less of a joke these days.
“It’s just really not for me, for the kind of person that I am, or what I like to do,” she stated.
When friends ask her to go to a frat party, and she says no, and they ask her for her reasoning, she is happy to explain to them.
“I’ll tell them that I think that fraternities that are inherently classist, racist institutions and I don’t want to support that. And usually they’ll say ‘Oh, I get that, but I’m still going to go,’” Cheng said. While her friends agree with her politically or morally, they still attend the frat parties.
“There’s just no choice, if you want to party you have to go to the frats.”
The lack of non-frat options has not entirely prevented Cheng from having fun party experiences, but she says she mostly enjoys herself at smaller parties, such as the ones held by her acapella group, Mixed Company.
Jinjie Dong ’18 also doesn’t frequent the Swat party scene. His main complaint is that there is only one kind of party at Swarthmore, and that it isn’t his kind of party.
“Here there’s a DJ and the room is super dark and there is super loud music and people are just like — ” at this point, Dong mimed the jolting and frantic dance style one might see late on a Saturday night after many drinks, “ — and it’s super crowded.”
Dong, who is an international student, said he was surprised by the party scene at Swarthmore, but that he may have had the wrong idea of what to expect. He is disappointed that it seems Swarthmore students have few ways of having fun besides going out to these parties. He noted two possible causes of the sparse options for fun:
“I think there’s a lack of space in Swat where relaxed events, and the kind of light-toned events can be held, where people can just go in and do whatever things they like,” he commented. He also emphasized that part of the problem is that people treat frat parties as the default type of party. “Since it’s an issue about how people think, I don’t really know how to kind of change,” he said.
It’s difficult to say definitively whether students who find the current Swarthmore party scene to be lacking would’ve been more or less satisfied if they had been at Swat a few years ago. But Thornton and Baryenbruch both reminisced about the weirder days of their early years at Swat, and lamented what they described as a decrease in lovably weird people and parties. In particular, both of the upperclassmyn sadly mentioned the end of Crunkfest, a 24-hour scavenger hunt that pitted teams against each other to see who could complete the most (often sex- and drug-related) tasks to secure their victory.
“It was the best party environment,” Thornton said of the event, “everyone was so consent-oriented and gentle with each other.” Though Crunkfest tasks involved asking people to do “crazy stuff,” no one was pushed into doing something they didn’t want to do. “[It was] an environment I felt comfortable saying no in, which doesn’t happen in these loud parties we go to.”
Thornton said that the first time they remembered going to a party where rules about consent were explicitly stated was at the Diva party in the spring of 2013. Gabe Benjamin ’15, one of the party hosts, noted that the party, which took place during what has become known as the Spring of our Discontent, was very much informed by the student protests and other events at that time.
The Thursday before the party, which had been in the works for multiple weeks, the IC was peed on for the third time. Benjamin and his friends considered cancelling the party, but ultimately went forward with it.
“Several of my friends thought it was important to still have the party and use it as a sort of decompression space and try to make it purposefully for those who are marginalized at Swat,” Benjamin recalled.
To make the party what they hoped it would be, they organized a group of students to volunteer in various capacities throughout the night. Some volunteers were inside the party to serve as resources in case anything non-consensual happened. Others patrolled the outside of the IC all night, to ensure that no one vandalized or damaged the IC. They also made a sign with rules — such as “No transphobia,” “No fatphobia,” “No racism,” — and hung it by the door.
Some party organizers, especially for SQU parties, have carried on that trend of explicitly stating rules about consent and permissible behavior. The Facebook event description for a Barn party that Thornton hosted earlier this year included this rule: “As always clothing optional consent mandatory.”