Party suites restrained

For the residents of Bookworld, Calhoun College’s “party suite,” the notification that the days of raging parties were over came from Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway on the first weekend of the year. Changes in Yale’s new stance toward alcohol consumption have changed the meaning of living in a party suite, students said.

“It’s more of a sweet room to live in rather than a place where you are obligated to throw parties,” Bookworld resident Ryan Russell ’09 said in an e-mail.

The members of Calhoun’s party suite, Bookworld, pose with the neon sign in the two-level common room. The roles of party suites have been affected by recent changes in state drinking laws.
Kathleen Koch
The members of Calhoun’s party suite, Bookworld, pose with the neon sign in the two-level common room. The roles of party suites have been affected by recent changes in state drinking laws.

In past years, the residential college party suites have had a reputation of throwing large — and often out-of-control — parties. But in response to a new state law as well as last year’s alcohol policy review, Yale has issued new rules for registering campus parties, which students said have resulted in fewer college-wide parties sponsored by the party suites.

The state passed a bill in October making it illegal for minors to possess alcohol on private property and for adults to allow minors to possess alcohol on their property. While Yale has not made broad changes to its alcohol policy, new party registration rules ban parties from spilling into courtyards and entryways, as well as officially banning mass e-mailed invitations, parties past 1 a.m. and the serving of grain alcohol.

But the extent to which these alcohol policies have affected the party suites vary, just as the selection process, funding and role of each suite is different.

Saybrook College 12-Pack resident Andy Wagner ’09 said the 12-Pack has been greatly deterred from throwing parties ever since one of its residents had to pay a $181 fine to the New Haven police after officers found a keg in their suite that had been purchased by an underage student. While Wagner said this was a “slap in the face,” he still believes it was safer for students to party on campus in party suites than off campus in frats.

“Yes, the college is liable for the party, but having someone coming back late at night at 2 a.m. is a little dangerous as well,” Wagner said.

Jonathan Edwards College Sextet resident Ben Conniff ’07 said the new policy banning drinks in courtyards hinders the Sextet party atmosphere, because students cannot take their drinks outside to relax on the hammock in the courtyard if they find the party to be too crowded and hot inside.

But Mitchell Reich ’09, a member of the Pierson College 11-Pack, said the new party policy has had a negligible effect on his suite since the students living there never really vied for the party suite in the first place. The students organized in an “idiosyncratic way” after they lost in the first round of housing draw. Typically, residents band together based on their interest in the party suites early on in the housing process.

“We were kind of just thrown into this room,” Reich said. “We aren’t really party people, and we thought people would get mad at us because we didn’t throw parties and use it to its full potential, but I have never had anyone complain. And when we have thrown parties, they aren’t even that Pierson-heavy.”

How students view the purpose and responsibility of party suites in each college varies. Some students said that given the amenities they receive — including financial support at times from the colleges — party suites have an obligation to serve as an important part of the social life of the college.

To pay for party supplies other than alcohol, Wagner said, the 12-Pack gets $75 a semester from the Saybrook Master’s Office and money from the Saybrook College Council, which varies anywhere from $75-$250. Branford and Morse students said their colleges had similar policies on subsidies. The Branford God Quad also has fundraisers, such as its end-of-the-year box-moving service, to raise money for its parties.

“In exchange for getting an amazing room, getting support and getting this prestige of being in God Quad, it is your responsibility to provide activities for students to do on the weekends,” said Debbie Li ’08, who will live in the God Quad next year.

According to Branford Housing Rules, one member of the Branford God Quad must be a member of the Branford College Council and the Branford Student Activities Committee. Apart from throwing parties for students, the God Quad also hosts a reception during Parents’ Weekend.

Branford’s party suite selection process is unique in that it is one of the few colleges which holds an election for those who wish to live in the God Quad and requires the residents to be seniors. This year was the first time in three years that the God Quad election was contested.

“The God (or Goddess) Quad is a special suite and it comes along with special responsibilities for the inhabitants,” Branford Master Steven Smith wrote in an e-mail. “They are obligated to serve as the de facto social leaders of the college and the election is a way of confirming their special status.”

But JE Master Gary Haller said if students choose to live in the JE Sextet and do not throw any parties, it would not be problematic since the suite is only called a party suite by tradition. The Sextet does not receive any funding from JE to throw parties, Haller said.

Similarly, Russell said that because Bookworld does not receive any money from Calhoun, its students are more inclined to throw birthday parties or parties in conjunction with other events such as Calhoun’s Trolley Night.

“Our parties are more for friends that we may have rather than an opportunity for Calhoun pride,” Russell said. “I don’t feel that we really set the party scene or social tone for the college.”

This past weekend, Branford students elected the first female God Quad since the college’s renovation in 2000. While this is not a first for Branford, it is generally rare for female students to live in party suites, and this year all the party suites were occupied by men. Smith said that in his 11 years as master, women have only lived in the God Quad twice. Haller said that during his 10 years as JE Master, women have never lived — or even, to his recollection, sought out — the Sextet.

Erin Frey ’08, one of the students elected to live in the God Quad next year, said many people questioned the group’s decision to run.

“People never consider girls confident enough to throw parties,” she said. “When they think of college parties they think of frat boys drinking their heads off, and I guess that is just a result of social norms.”

Frey said she and her future suitemates have had significant experience in throwing parties such as an apple pie shot party at Beta and beer pong tournaments, all of which involve significant planning and work.

While Conniff said he could see how stereotypes could discourage women from living in party suites, he also said there may be a more practical side to the issue.

“I think it’s probably a lot of prejudice against girls, the thinking that they may throw parties that are less appealing to guys,” Conniff said. “But then, I also can’t think of any group of girls in JE that would actually want to take on the responsibility of throwing parties, because then you have to deal with people who want to come into your room and puke. It could be that guys are more willing to deal with that kind of grossness that comes with throwing parties in your suite than girls are.”

There are no party suites in Ezra Stiles or Trumbull colleges.

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