Behind the Party Scene

This weekend, students attended the final hurrah for a two-year experiment in EDM, laser lights and neon knick-knacks.

Officially the last of the popular Poon parties, Saturday’s Paces event generated a crowd that stands as a testament to the niche filled by the project. The original Club Poon — thrown as a birthday present for its namesake, Preston Poon ’14, in the fall of 2011 — sought to revitalize what its founders saw as a floundering party scene. In the process, it’s helped to redefine small groups’ abilities to host high impact events on campus.

Poon 5.0 marked the third event of the year undertaken by the team of friends, and the second of the spring semester. The parties have filled a springtime gap in Sera Jeong’s ’14 “Weekend Event” emails — fraternity row, where five major parties had been held by this time in the fall semester, has remained comparatively silent in the new year.

Contrary to budding rumors, the lull is not a result of recent calls for the referendum on Greek life. According to DU President Rory McTear ’13, the springtime slump is an annual phenomenon, a result of events concentrated around fraternity rushing in the fall and the busier schedules of DU leadership — many of whom play on the varsity baseball team — in the spring.

Phi Psi President Zachary Schaffer ’14 attributes his fraternity’s quieter weekend scene, as far as large-scale events go, to this semester’s change in leadership. With two of the three fraternity leaders returning from a semester abroad, he cited a need “to get our footing.”

This spring isn’t atypical in the larger cycles of fraternity life. In 2012, the fraternities rang in the new year with DU’s “Pajama Palooza” and “Welcome to the Jungle” — an event held at Phi Psi but hosted by the Ladies’ Soiree Society (LaSS) — but remained quiet until Phi Psi’s Saint Natty’s Day celebration in March.

So who fills the gap when the fraternities dip out?

— or, rather, when the fraternities quiet down. Although there haven’t been large SAC-funded events this spring, both McTear and Schaffer emphasized that the fraternity houses are open every Thursday and Saturday to the wider campus community. Former Phi Psi President Mike Girardi ’13 believes the consistent weekend option provided by the fraternities to students looking to unwind is one of the more valuable services provided by the brotherhoods on campus.

“My personal belief, and this can change by president … is that it’s always been about having the house open,” Girardi said. “We all know Swarthmore is a difficult place to be. It can be trying. We’re all drowning in work all the time … It’s not just about the awesome parties when everyone goes out and goes crazy. It’s providing an avenue for people to blow off steam.”

For students missing the “awesome parties” usually held in the spring, larger groups like i20 step in to fill the gap. Hosting the Screw after-party “We No Speak Americano” and December’s “Arma-Get-It-On Apocalypse Party,” the international club has a reputation for its well-planned events, which it holds once a semester.

What makes Club Poon parties different, however, is the comparative lack of available manpower. Whereas fraternity officers and groups like i20 can draw on an extensive network of members for support and, in some cases, extra funds, the five original Club Poon founders bear the full burden of party planning.

The time commitment is certainly not negligible. For Saturday’s party, Poon planners embarked on a seven hour trip off-campus to round up lighting, knick-knacks and beverages. Committed from their inaugural party to combatting all-dark party venues and lackluster playlists, preparations included making the hour-long drive to ZeoLights for lighting pickup and agonizing over song selection for maximum audience impact.

Although groups like i20 and the fraternities have a larger membership to draw from, both i20 co-president Maria Anleu ’15 and Girardi noted that for most events, only a core group of members contribute actively to set-up — roughly ten people, in both cases. This small number, along with Club Poon’s success, seems to suggest a fertile scene for small group-run parties.

However, the financial burden is no small obstacle for Poon. Although SAC typically provides $300 for their events — roughly the same amount it allots to larger fraternity parties like DU’s “Hootenany” and Phi Psi’s “Disorientation” —  Padda said that party organizers spent an additional $250 on this weekend’s bash. While this is slightly more than the group usually supplements, it’s by no means the only example of the founders paying out of pocket.

“We want to throw a great party, so we’re all willing to chip in more money,” Padda said. “We’re not spending the money for us, but for everyone on campus. We want everyone who comes to have a good time, especially [at Poon 5.0] since this week is midterms week.”

According to SBC Chairman Jacob Adenbaum ’14, this year’s budget cuts are hitting SAC hard, and party funding is being cut to the bare minimum. However, a more formulaic funding system is being used to keep funding fair.

“In past years, there have been anxieties about bias,” he said. “A lot of what SAC is doing right now — partly how formulaic [funding requests are] — eliminate some of that bias … SAC’s been trying very hard to avoid being biased towards one type of party versus others.”

Although i20 tries to stick strictly to the money it’s allowed through SAC, Anleu noted that for the past two parties the group dipped into SBC funds to help cover lighting costs. In Anleu’s opinion, the bare bones party budget, as described by Adenbaum, has also affected the quality of parties on campus this year.

“Since they have less money, parties have become more focused on throwing the party, given what people expect of a party, and keeping to the basics like drinks and food,” Anleu said. “For example, if you want cool lights, you need to find a way to fund it yourself … [and] if you don’t have money for decorations, you can’t really play a lot with different experiences for your guests.”

The fraternities, which use dues paid by members to supplement any school funding they receive for larger events, are able to distribute pocket payments across a greater membership than other groups. According to Girardi, SAC funding covered only half the cost of Phi Psi’s “Swat Glow” party this fall. On nights when the houses are open and no SAC-funded parties are taking place, parties are funded entirely by the brothers. This institutionalized funding system appears to be the biggest discrepancy between what smaller groups on campus, like the Poon organizers, and the fraternities can accomplish when throwing weekend events.

A large portion of the supplementary funds used by groups on campus go towards making parties go above and beyond other events held during the year. For Club Poon, that means champagne showers, neon highlighters and shot glasses, and a whole bunch of glowsticks. For Phi Psi’s Swat Glow, the mandatory non-toxic paint supplies, plus water guns and two fully frosted cakes, capped off the event.

Like Padda, Girardi sees the extra price tag as a small price to pay for “a kicking party.”

“I didn’t drink at the paint party,” Girardi said. “I didn’t have to. It was enough to look out at the crowd at all the kids having fun. That’s personally what I want Phi Psi to be. We want to have fun, but we want everyone else to have fun with us.”

The question, then, is this: does our fun depend on alternative sources of funding for party organizers?

A solution to the diminished budget isn’t entirely obvious. Both Girardi and Padda said that having an option for a change of pace — and an overflow venue, in the case of overpacked venues — is an important part of a positive Saturday night experience. While party planners typically check to make sure their larger events don’t coincide with other groups’ major parties, the need for options and space concerns eliminate the viability of consolidating party efforts into one of the venues on a given Saturday.

One thing, however, is clear: the party scene on this campus isn’t as “free” for all of us as students like to think.

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