Swarthmore’s Dry Side

Throughout the course of the night of the Halloween Party, approximately 200 students showed up at the Women’s Resource Center, highlighting the possible need for having more dry social spaces and events on campus.

Currently, if a Swattie chooses to spend a free evening engaged in a non-alcoholic activity, chances are that the person will spend a night in with friends, attend the weekly movie screening or use the Women’s Resource Center as a social dry space. In addition to these, they might play pool at Tarble or visit Philly. While dry options for teetotalers — or even just someone looking for some sober fun — are not non-existent, they lack the regularity of Pub Night and frat parties.

Some might argue that alcoholic parties can be attended and enjoyed by people who don’t wish to drink, but Yana List ’14, Yule Ball Director, pointed out in an email that, “There are a lot of students (myself included) that just don’t attend wet events because they can be uncomfortable if you are not interested in drinking.” Her statement brought to light the fact that while students who drink may comfortably attend a sober event, students who don’t drink are socially limited by their discomfort at alcoholic parties.

List, who manages the year’s largest dry party, stresses the importance of dry events for bringing the student body together. Talking about how the Yule Ball came about, List said, “At the very first meeting for planning the Yule Ball, one of the major things we talked about was how there really weren’t many dry events on campus and how this could be an opportunity to bring people together, whether or not they drink.” Elaborating on the Yule Ball’s popularity, List continued, “We don’t have perfect numbers because we don’t require wristbands, but based on the number of people that signed the card last year, and on pictures, it is around a thousand. Sharples stays pretty crowded for most of the night.”

This optimistic view of the Yule Ball is countered by Joan O’Bryan ’13, a host at the Women’s Resource Center: “Not a lot of people turn up. The times that I’ve attended the Ball, I’ve danced for a bit with my friends but not for long.” Though O’Bryan feels that dry dance parties cater to a small part of the student body, she endorses the need for more non-alcoholic events. In her opinion, “There is a silent majority on campus who doesn’t drink or attend alcoholic events. I guess Paces can hold 200 people, Olde Club another 200 and the frats about 150. So on any given weekend, that leaves about a thousand students,” she said.

A consistent member of this assumed thousand is Kelley Langhans ’16, who voiced her opinion about dry events at Swarthmore. “There are not that many dry events. There is something at the WRC but I didn’t even know about it until recently. I think even the WRC is a space where you can drop by and get food; it’s a temporary non-alcoholic space as opposed to a gathering. There aren’t many options where you can go out and do things that are non-alcoholic.”

Langhan’s observation about the WRC being a temporary space is true; the Center is more of a safe space for those who are really drunk and those who just need a break from the atmosphere at weekend parties than for those seeking sober socializing. As O’Bryan recounted, even on the night of the Halloween Party, only about 50 of the 200 who turned up were sober. The Yule Ball is only one event that fits the category of a big non-alcoholic social gathering.

A dry option that can be considered the main — and most consistent — non-alcoholic activity on campus is the weekly movie screening. According Catherine Kelley ’14, Movie Committee Coordinator, “The most popular ones that the Movie Committee has shown so far are the most mainstream ones, such as ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ But besides these well attended movies, on average about 40 to 50 people attend screenings on Fridays, and 15 to 25 attend Saturday screenings.” She voiced her personal opinion on the irregularity of other dry events at Swarthmore, saying, “That’s okay, really, because I can’t think of a social dry event that could take place on evenings on a weekend other than a movie, but maybe there could be a parlor party type of thing hosted by different student groups on the weekend, especially on Sunday nights when people need a study break and could use food.”

Kelley also presented the perspective that large dry parties are not the only kind of sober fun desired by students. “I know that with my friends, if I’m not going to a party then I just stay in with them because nothing else looks interesting, or all the dry events were earlier in the day. Sometimes it’s not so bad though, you just want to spend some time with close friends hanging out in your room or catching up with work.” She added, “But it would be nice to have more late evening dry events.”

Kelley and List have their proposals for non-alcoholic events. Kelley referred to her rugby team’s chosen low-key method. “My rugby team socials on Friday nights because we can’t drink before games on Saturday mornings, and we just hang out in the WRC with food, do some work, play games and relax. That’s really nice, and maybe Swat could use more socials like that on a weekend.”

List has more elaborate plans up her sleeve. “I think that we need to encourage more events like the Yule Ball. This is Swarthmore, we should embrace the kitch. I am always open to more fandom ideas. It would be awesome if we staged the Hunger Games on campus, with different dorms, or academic departments representing the districts, or a Game of Thrones party … just imagine the costumes.”

The question that the WRC’s growing number of visitors really raises is if there is indeed a “silent majority” looking for innovative and enjoyable dry events where they can spend their free time and if so, how the student body and administration can facilitate such events.

1 Comment

  1. It is true that The WRC is mainly a safe space for drunk people on Saturday nights, but it can be a social gathering space during our open hours on other days. We have had movie nights on Thursdays from 10pm to midnight, for example, with housesitter Yena. She shows awesome movies. And there’s always food, of course. 🙂

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