Swarthmore has a reputation for being one of the most self-consciously intellectual schools in the country. We should take pride in that label — there’s nothing wrong with a school prioritizing academics. The administration’s policies, which were revamped after 2013, make it hard to serve alcohol at or raise money for PubNite. and Pub’s current struggles show that the school has possibly gone overboard in regulating the party scene and by extension the entire campus atmosphere, by making it far too difficult to create communal spaces that help to build community at Swarthmore.
To be clear, not everybody goes to Pub Nite, and it has never been some huge event that commanded the entire school’s attention, at least as far as I can tell. I’ve personally only gone a few times in my brief career at Swat. But it is an example of a fun, social activity that rose organically from the student body, and is run by students. And having a space like PubNite that is always available as a place to meet new people and destress serves an important role on a college campus. There are a lot of opportunities to completely lose yourself in the endless churn of student groups, work, and outside commitments. To have a break on Thursday is a small antidote to that particular kind of rat race; not to romanticize it, but Pub is a good reminder that there’s more to do at Swat than read Kierkegaard or go to finance club meetings. Or, for that matter, to stay in your room and binge watch Rick and Morty.
In fact, wasn’t community the reason that many of us chose to go to a liberal arts college? For all the cliches in Princeton Review college guidebooks and informational settings, it is a self-evident truth that a campus with roughly 1,500 students is going to have a tighter-knit atmosphere than a state school with 30,000 students. So taking steps to promote that sense of place and belonging is important, because even with our extremely small size, there are still a lot of ways to distance ourselves from the wider campus community. In fact, Pub is unique as a communal space, not a group of like-minded people. Its value lies in the opposite: it is really just a random collection of students from across campus, who aren’t there to play a sport (unless you count beer pong) or do political advocacy or publish a newspaper, but just to go to a party, maybe meet some new people, and have a good time. There aren’t really any other opportunities to destress like that during a long week at Swarthmore, and there are few other places where we can make the connections outside of classes and extracurriculars that go toward making Swarthmore an actual community.
But the actual issue at hand is not to wax rhapsodic about how great PubNite is: it’s that the administration has policies in place that make it hard for PubNite to exist. Everybody who has spent any time at Swarthmore can talk about a time when Public Safety arbitrarily shut down a party or when school regulations made it incredibly difficult to even have a party in the first place. Currently, a party cannot accept donations if alcohol is served, leading Pub to fundraise on dry nights and continually scramble for funding. This is obviously exhausting to the students who run Pub, and constantly leaves Pub just scraping by, always at risk. And, of course, many other parties simply don’t happen. Proponents of the restrictive policies make two main arguments: first, that tighter regulations on school-sanctioned events decrease unsafe drinking habits, and that the previous five-dollar charge for attending PubNite created problems of equal access. For the first argument, the policies actually create the opposite of the intended effect: in a January 2016 article, the Daily Gazette found that incidents tied to unsafe alcohol use generally increased ever since the stricter policies were implemented. In fact, for the school to make it harder to serve alcohol at Pub and other parties is a strange double standard, given that it implicitly accepts drinking in dorms and at private gatherings.
In terms PubNite’s funding issues, if the slight barrier of a five dollar charge is so horrifying to the administration, then why does it not take similarly drastic measures to help students buy pencils and notebooks? If real accessibility problems exist, organizers of PubNite and the campus at large can and should find ways to make PubNite open to all. The creative methods organizers have already used to keep PubNite afloat gives me confidence that the Swarthmore community can find ways to keep PubNite accessible. The idea that students here will passively accept the exclusion of some students from a event open to all seems far-fetched. But heavy-handed, top down intervention from the school will leave us worse off than before. The Phoenix and the Daily Gazette have raised many objections to the restrictions on fundraising and tightened permitting in many articles. The basic fact is that by being hostile to PubNite and to large parties as a whole, the administration is sending all the wrong messages about the type of community it wants Swarthmore to be.
Basically, the administration has a choice. It can continue to make life difficult for people trying to throw parties on campus, thereby making it harder for any kind of campus community to grow. Maybe Swarthmore students will continue to be known as very intellectual and studious, but with the unwanted and negative stereotypes of being antisocial and workaholics as well. Or it can throttle back its regulation of campus parties, allow Pub to fund itself, and move the social scene in a direction that creates open, communal spaces that help make college fun and bearable.