The Parrish Parlors, home to impromptu piano concertos and napping students, will now also host student-run parties. The initiative by the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) will endow students with a budget of around $200 to independently organize and host themed dry parties on Thursday and Saturday nights. “The goal [of the Parlor parties] is to allow students to put on their own events outside of the funding system of student organization affiliation,” said Office of Student Engagement graduate assistant Kinsey Hallinger.
In a building teeming with as much history as Parrish, even its Parlor parties have a storied past. In 2008 an anonymous alumni gave a donation to fund non-alcoholic programming at the college. The then-Office of Student Life (precursor to the OSE) used the fund to begin Parrish Parlor parties as a dry alternative. According to a 2008 Phoenix interview with then-Associate Dean for Student Life Myrt Westphal, the Parrish parties were “a response to students’ desires” for more non-alcoholic event alternatives, desires which were expressed in meetings of a Social Scene Advisory Committee established by then Assistant Director of Student Life Kelly Wilcox ’97.
The parties were a success, and became an integral part of the social fabric at the college within just a semester of their introduction. Sally Chang ’11, who hosted a cookie and cake decorating party which was attended by 150 people, hailed it as “actually really fun” in a 2008 Daily Gazette article. Fanny Zhao ’12, then a first year, spoke highly of the less intense atmosphere at Parlor parties, saying in that same article, “For me it’s a good way of going to a ‘party’.” Zhao later went on to host a party herself, acting as a “barista” (a party host) for a Halloween party.
After an advertising push, the allure of hosting a party in Parrish caught on, and dates were booked quickly by students and campus organizations. “It’s doing what we wanted because it’s part of the social scene,” said Wilcox, adding that “we intend on it being a permanent fixture.”
Despite their popularity among students, the alumni donation was only enough to last through the end of that one year, causing concern to Wilcox and Westphal. After a few years, Parlor parties were no more.
This semester, the Office of Student Engagement has begun the work of bringing back the Parrish Parlor parties, attempting to solidify them once again as a staple of student life on campus.
“It’s really about making sure there is an option for everybody on this campus,” said Kinsey Hallinger of the Office of Student Engagement. “That’s something the original events were meant to capture and that’s something we want to do as well.”
The Office of Student Engagement emphasizes that the point of these events is that they are entirely organized by and for students. “We very much want them to be student-run, in the spirit of the [previous] Parrish Parlor parties,” said Office of Student Engagement graduate assistant Ben Shalk. Hallinger echoed this sentiment, adding, “the original appeal was to put the power and the party planning potential in the hands of the students – and we’re sure that’s going to happen again.”
Hallinger and Shalk are optimistic that students will once again eagerly take up the mantle of the Parlor parties. “With the depth and creativity on this campus, students will create parties that no OSE staff would be able to think up,” said Shalk. “If students take the initiative to create events that harness their own creativity, and spread their enthusiasm to the rest of the attendees, it will be a great success,” added Hallinger.
The parlor space is uniquely well-suited for these types of events, according to Hallinger and Shalk. “Geographically, the parlors are central and open, which plays into our hope of welcoming as many students as possible,” said Hallinger. “You can really make the space your own. There’s massive potential, and the students have the creativity to make that happen.”
Hallinger and Shalk spoke of the simplicity of the process through which students can sign up to host parties, hoping this will motivate more people to sign up. “All you have to do is fill out a form and get $200 for your event,” said Shalk.
Shalk is “hoping for a snowball effect, that some students will host parties early on and people will see how easy and fun it is and then it will catch on,” eventually recapturing the level of popularity that these events held ten years ago. “We have 12 weeks left in the semester, or 24 events,” explained Hallinger. “I think we can easily get 24-plus students who are interested in holding events on this campus.”
On Thursday, February 7th, the Office of Student Engagement hosted the inaugural Parrish Parlor party, a 90s themed event featuring Capri-Suns, playground toys, fruit roll-ups, and rainbow slinkies. It was a “proof of concept event to let students know that these will be happening,” according to Kinsey.
“I was there briefly, I had a nice time,” said Jake Chanenson ’21 of the Parlor party. “I think it’s a really good thing the OSE is doing. I was just at a meeting of the Task Force on Student Social Events and Community Standards where we agreed it would be really good if there were a space that students know will have a dry event every Thursday and Saturday, just like you know there will be a party with alcohol every Thursday and Saturday,” Chanenson said.
Chanenson is optimistic about the platform. “They’re not dictating to students what is fun, they’re just giving students the platform and the resources to determine what is fun,” he added. “I appreciate the fact that they’re taking care of purchasing because you don’t have to go through the process of getting refunded.”
At press time, Hallinger said that there are already three upcoming student-run Parlor parties planned for February and March, the first taking place on Thursday, February 21st.
Chanenson concluded by adding, “I would like this to be a fixture of Swarthmore’s party scene. I was in a couple of conversations with OSE, they kept asking what they can do to provide dry spaces, but that’s been really hard to do, so I would love for this student-run initiative to be fun and successful.”