As Swarthmore returns to a more typical semester after half of the student body studied remotely during the past academic year, one aspect of normal student life at Swarthmore remains in limbo: the party scene. During the last fully normal semester at Swarthmore, the Fall 2019 semester, The Phoenix reported that the party scene was evolving after the dissolution of both fraternities, at least one of which had formerly hosted open parties most weekends. Anyone on campus is welcome to attend open parties, whereas only those invited can attend closed parties. Subsequently, the only regularly open wet party on campus remained Pub Nite, an open party on Thursdays, which had decreased in frequency to once every two weeks due to funding concerns.
Before concerns mounted over the Delta variant of COVID-19, which infects even fully vaccinated people at higher rates than other variants, the college was slated to return to a fully normal semester, with masks not required in public spaces and no regular testing for fully vaccinated students, faculty, or staff. On August 6, the college announced a reimplementation of the previous semester’s mask mandate, requiring students to wear masks in almost all public spaces. Moreover, the college reimplemented regular testing for all students, faculty, and staff, with the small minority of unvaccinated students tested weekly and vaccinated students tested biweekly based on last name. As of September 15, only .3% of student test results have returned positive.
The student handbook, circulated to students by Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Nathan Miller on September 3, also outlined COVID-19-related changes to the college’s policies on alcohol and other drugs that could impact student gatherings, both registered and unregistered. Alcohol was prohibited for students on campus during the Fall 2020 semester when on-campus students were primarily underclassmen. In Spring 2021, however, on-campus students were primarily upperclassmen and were allowed to keep either 750 milliliters of wine (equivalent to one bottle) or 72 ounces of beer (equivalent to a six-pack) in their rooms. Liquors and distilled spirits in any form remain prohibited on campus, though the college allowed students to have beverages with lower alcohol-by-volume ratios, such as White Claw. The college has decided to keep the restriction on quantities of alcohol students are allowed to possess.
Though alcohol-registered events were not permitted during the first two weekends following the start of classes, Miller clarified in an email to The Phoenix that A.R.E.s will be allowed starting this weekend.
“The College is planning to allow A.R.E.s this semester, with some restrictions. Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and increases with the Delta variant, A.R.E.s … need to be hosted in outside venues. Students are able to schedule A.R.E.s this coming weekend,” Miller wrote.
Director of Student Activities Andrew Barclay sent an email to all students on September 14 stating that while A.R.E.s will once again be allowed, only closed A.R.E.s will be allowed during the coming weekend as to allow training for SwatTeam (a team of students who must be present at open A.R.E.s to promote safe community standards).
Other on-campus events include college-sponsored events, which in the Fall semester typically include the Halloween Party and Winter Formal. On August 25, SGO announced via the SGO-SBC listserv that the SGO Student Life committee, in conjunction with the Office of Student Engagement, would host a Fall Formal event on September 25 in Sci Quad, a vast outdoor space. The event, which would be the first large-scale open party since pre-pandemic Spring 2020, was slated to have “food, drinks, DJs, and dancing.”
It is unclear whether Fall Formal has been postponed or cancelled altogether. In an email to The Phoenix, SGO President Ariana Azumatan Aceituno ’22 wrote, “I am sad not to have Fall Formal on the original date, but I cannot speak to its postponement/cancellation as it was not an SGO decision.”
She added that students should expect to see an email from the college this week with more details.
In the past, OSE has also spearheaded Parlor Parties, dry alternatives to wet parties on Thursday and Saturday nights. Any student could sign up to host a Parlor Party, and the OSE would allot them $200 to purchase food, non-alcoholic drinks, and decorations. Parlor Parties were also victims of stringent COVID-19 policies on campus, and it is currently unclear whether or not they will return as a fixture to campus life this semester.
The Phoenix was not able to interview a representative from OSE.
Nevertheless, the restriction on large gatherings and prohibition of A.R.E.s thus far have not kept students from finding informal venues to host parties and events with alcohol.
With the return of all class years to campus, so too has returned a Swarthmore tradition predating all students on campus: Pub Nite. Pub Nite has traditionally taken place in Paces on Thursday nights, with the first half of the party dedicated to drinking games and the latter half dedicated to dancing. In the past decade, Pub Nite has taken several logistical blows. Prior to policy changes in 2014, students and groups hosting parties could use the “DJ Fund” — a college-allocated fund meant to hire DJs and to purchase party supplies — to buy alcohol. The college eliminated the DJ fund following significant revisions to the alcohol and other drugs policy (along with other policies) on account of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigating a federal complaint against Swarthmore for mishandling Title IX cases in 2013.
Following the elimination of the DJ fund, the financial burden of purchasing alcohol for events began to fall on students. Moreover, Pennsylvania liquor laws, which are widely considered among the strictest alcohol regulations in the country, prevent Pub Nite Officers (the organizers of Pub Nite) from asking for donations to buy alcohol. With Public Safety cracking down on drinking games in the Spring 2018 semester, the focus of Pub Nite became dancing exclusively.
Though Pub Nite has been absent from campus since the start of the pandemic, it returned in the form of a private Facebook group with the new Pub Nite officers promising a classic Pub Nite experience. The first half of the event would potentially feature drinking games with water and the second half would be dedicated to dancing. (Notably, drinking games even with water instead of alcohol are still prohibited on campus.) Though the first Pub Nite on Thursday, September 2 was scheduled to take place in Paces like previous iterations of the event, the two Pub Nites that have taken place so far were subsequently moved to outdoor locations around campus.
In an interview with The Phoenix, current Pub Nite Officer Rose Teszler ’23 said that she and other current Pub Nite Officers decided to revive Pub Nite so there could be an open party space for everyone on campus.
“It’s super important to have open events that anyone can go to,” she said. “I think that looking back, our freshman year when we did have fraternity parties and stuff like that … the one good thing I could say about them is that, well, it’s a space that anyone can get into. … Especially post the fraternities shutting down, you could definitely see a shift towards people going mostly to NPPR parties, but those were so dominated by upperclassmen … You could tell a lot of freshmen and underclassmen were like, ‘Well, where do I party? What is available to me?’”
Teszler also expressed concern about academics encroaching on every aspect of life at Swarthmore and emphasized the importance of having a non-academic space on campus.
“The second [reason for reviving Pub Nite] would also just be having a space that’s really just social and having fun,” she said. “And it’s not academic in any way shape or form. It’s been really tough to kind of see academics or stress and work kind of encroach on almost every aspect of things we do here.”
Teszler also said that the Pub Nite Officers have been in communication with Barclay about safely bringing drinking games with water back to dry Pub Nites.
“I would definitely say that we are working on building a case for why, if the event is entirely dry, we should be allowed to have water pong and stuff like that, since there’s no alcohol being provided, so we can’t really call it a drinking game,” she said. “Long term, we’d … see, maybe if we do have alcohol at a party, if there’s anything we can work out with S.W.A.T. Team and make sure they have more eyes on it.”
Teszler estimated that around 150 people attended the first Pub Nite in NPPR courtyard, with similar but slightly lower attendance at the second Pub Nite.
Additionally, there has been at least one unregistered party on campus. On Saturday, September 11, a large unregistered party took place in the NPPR courtyard. The gathering began on the NPPR balcony but moved downstairs to the courtyard when Pub Safe officers broke up the event. The event soon grew to over 75 attendees, surpassing the maximum number of attendees allowed by the college at social events.
“Erica” ’22, who attended the party, said in an interview with The Phoenix she did not know who organized the event.
“I actually don’t know who organized it but I think it was someone who lived in NPPR, and I just heard about it through a friend of a friend,” she said.
Erica also commented on the current lack of diversity in social spaces at Swarthmore compared to pre-pandemic party spaces.
“I think that it’s really hard with COVID, honestly,” she said, “I always really enjoyed it when students would host parties in Kitao or Olde Club or [The Phoenix’s office] or the WSRN room. Diversity is really important and those parties are more inclusive and it definitely feels like … it’s a certain demographic of students that goes to these unorganized Pub-Safe-shut-down gatherings.”
On September 13, Dean of Students Tomoko Sakomura sent an email to all students expressing concern towards flippant attitudes towards COVID-19 precautions on campus, including a hundred students missing required testing on September 6 and large unregistered student gatherings.
“Unfortunately, there have been several unregistered gatherings with large numbers of students closely packed together and unmasked,” she wrote. “In some instances, there are reports of students playing drinking games that involve multiple individuals drinking from shared containers. Not only does that sort of behavior violate College policy, but it also dramatically increases the risk of transmitting the virus, which poses a risk to you and our entire community.”
So far this semester, Pub Safe has broken up several unauthorized social events, including at least one in a residence hall and at least one in the NPPR courtyard area.
In an email to The Phoenix, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill said that the scope of Pub Safe operations has not changed since the return to campus life.
“Public Safety’s role has not changed,” he wrote. “As Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Terhune and Dean of Students Tomoko Sakomura wrote in their recent message to the student body, individuals who violate the student code of conduct or Garnet Pledge will be held accountable and subject to disciplinary action.”
The uncertainty surrounding Swarthmore’s party scene predates the universal uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 crisis, with students having worried about the decline of social spaces since Pub Safe’s 2018 crackdown on both drinking games and possession of distilled alcohol. One thing, however, is certain: parties and the social scene are fundamental to campus life at Swarthmore and will continue to claw their way back from obsoletion regardless of administrative and COVID-related obstacles.