Yalies nostalgically look back on Calhoun College’s Trolley Night and Silliman College’s Safety Dance as rites of passage in their undergraduate years. In comparison, Pierson College’s “Inferno” is the black sheep, a dark reminder of past debaucheries, shrouded in mystery and scandal — and not just because it celebrates Halloween.
For the first time since it was officially banned in 2003, Pierson has openly invited the student body to the Inferno — an annual Halloween party that, in recent years, has been ridden with controversy.
Tonight, the decades-old bash will make a historic return to Pierson’s dining hall, as opposed to limiting the party to Piersonites within the college’s lower court area, as was done in past years.
But, along with the open invitation, organizers said, comes great responsibility. Last year’s party resulted in a handful of Piersonites receiving citations from police. Yet, stricter rules — and the wide publication of those rules — have pushed students to believe that this year’s bash will be a tamer, and potentially less enjoyable, one.
In an e-mail message to the Pierson community yesterday morning, Pierson Dean Amerigo Fabbri announced the new rules along with the Inferno’s comeback.
“Because it is Halloween, because it is a Friday night and because of incidents in the past associated with Halloween in Pierson, the police will be especially strict,” Fabbri wrote.
He said the rules, which were outlined in the e-mail with pumpkin bullet points, were the result of a collaboration between Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt, the Yale Police Department, the Fire Marshal and Yale Security.
Yale Police Department spokesman Lt. Steven Woznyk wrote in an e-mail message to the News the department will continue to place emphasis on the issue of underage drinking, focusing on “prevention, intervention and enforcement if necessary.”
According to Fabbri’s e-mail, police are planning to search all bags at the college’s York Street gate, and no liquids will be allowed in the Pierson courtyard. Alcohol will be allowed in the lower courtyard, he said, where only students with wristbands showing they are over 21 years old will be allowed to enter.
All gates to Pierson will be closed at 7 p.m., but Pierson students will be allowed to enter the college through the York Street gate after 7. Starting at 9 p.m., all Yale students will be allowed to enter through the York Street gate.
The regulations are designed and emphasized to prevent a repeat of past Halloween parties in Pierson, Fabbri said.
First held in 1977, the Pierson Inferno’s run came to a halt in 2003, when Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt cancelled the event for that year, said Stephen Dobeck ’10, Pierson Student Activities Committee chair.
At the 2002 Inferno — which, by that time, attracted throngs of non-Yalies — partygoers did “excessive damage” to college property, Dobeck said, and 14 students had to be taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital for alcohol poisoning.
Still, from 2003 to 2007, the PSAC hosted “a small Halloween gathering,” informally called the “Unferno,” said Elaine Sullivan ’10, one of the principal planners for this year’s Inferno.
At last year’s Unferno, she said, a miscommunication between the party’s planners and Fabbri ended with police coming to the college. Officers issued citations to several students for liquor violations.
In PSAC meetings this year, the committee proceeded to work “in close consultation” with the Dean’s and Master’s offices on a new version of the Inferno, which they named the “Tenth Circle,” Sullivan said.
While this year’s Inferno is back in full-force — replete with snacks, a DJ and elaborate dining-hall decorations — Elis hoping to party in their rooms beforehand might still run into problems.
No parties will be allowed in Pierson after 9 p.m., Fabbri said, except the official party in the dining hall, which will only be open to Yale students.
“Officers will be patrolling the courtyard and the entryways beginning at 7 p.m. If they hear excessive noise coming from your suite they will visit your room,” he wrote in the e-mail.
But Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said police are not planning to go “door-to-door” to look for underage drinking. If complaints are brought to the attention of the authorities, however, they are required by law to take action, she said.
Both the YPD and the New Haven Police Department said they plan to have more officers on duty tonight to handle the expected Halloween crowds. “Increased staffing during this period will certainly allow us to utilize resources that may become necessary to address various issues that may arise during those two days” he said.
In interviews, several Pierson students who had read Fabbri’s e-mail said they understand the rules are necessary but are planning to go elsewhere to drink.“I’m excited it’s back, but it seems like it’ll be lamer at the same time,” Bobby Underwood ’10 said.
Trevor Wagener ’11, a member of the Pierson College Council, said the council had no choice but to accept the rules. He said the party had to be registered, pursuant to rules set by the Council of Masters. “These are just facts of life,” he said.
In a second e-mail message Thursday afternoon, Fabbri acknowledged this year’s Inferno will “be a lot different from any Inferno we have seen in the past.” And the main difference, he added, lies in spirit.
“Fun will be not because of drinking,” he wrote, “but because a lot of people in hilarious costumes will be in the courtyard and in the dining hall for the dance party.”
Liane Membis contributed reporting.