The New Party Suites

crit
Photo by Tao Tao Holmes.

A dim, luminous red pulses at the end of the long dormitory hallway. As I draw nearer, the walls begin to throb against me, and the floor sends deep tremors of Taio Cruz through the soles of my slim flats, up through my gut, and into my woozy head. The walls emanate a pinkish glow; the ground shines with the sticky residue of spilled Keystone Light. The air is dense with the combination of evaporating sweat and the pungent smell of stale beer on party guests’ breath.

I plant my feet, bend my knees slightly, and execute a strategically placed hip check in order to cross the party’s threshold; a few stealthy but deadly elbows soon help me propel myself to the center of the swaying throng. My eyes settle on a wall etched with several sets of initials. They’re the initials of the past members of the God Quad, Branford College’s party suite — sets of initials that, over the past 15 years, have only belonged to women three times.

As a Branford freshman last spring, I heard that a group of girls had won an uncontested election to man the next year’s God Quad. Ripples of skepticism passed through my peers in Vanderbilt; questions circulated about whether the designated party suite of Branford was going to devolve into nail-painting sessions and late night tea parties. I easily bought into this line of thinking, dubious that girls would be able to create the bass-thumping ragers that, by then, the familiar set of senior guys seemed so predisposed to fostering.

Another night in October, I decided to drop by the God Quad. There were no pulsating floorboards guiding me down the hallway, and I was able to enter without pulling out any middle-school hockey skills. Replacing the usual empty bottles of Dubra were boxes of powdered donuts, chocolate chip cookies, jugs of milk, and innocent-looking paper cups. A small group of Branfordians mingled quietly, discussing classes and IM standings. I could lift my arms out, spin an entire 360 degrees, and not touch a single sweaty chin. The only thing missing was the nail polish.

Except that this was a Tuesday.

The Goddess Quad has doubled the function of the suite, a central hub of Branford College social life, by hosting both parties on weekends and smaller, quieter gatherings during the week. It took only five minutes in that familiar cavern on a Saturday night this fall before I realized the obvious: you need just a few basic things to throw a party. “They always happen naturally; it’s a struggle for us not to have parties on the weekend. It’s a large space and people feel entitled to come,” says Natalie Akers ’14, a current member of Saybrook’s own all-female party suite, the “12 Pack.”

The God Quad isn’t the only historically male party suite to attract female leadership. Saybrook’s “12 Pack,” Calhoun’s “Book World, ” Davenport’s “Cottage,” and Timothy Dwight’s “Bar-H” have all seen hostesses over the past two years. Maybe these girls are simply exercising their “genuine appreciation for initiative” that admissions has told the News it looks for when selecting future Yalies. A recent article in the News examining the role of women’s leadership on campus rattles off a large list of campus organizations — such as the Yale College Democrats, YHHAP, the Yale Historical Review, and the Yale Scientific — whose leaders lack a Y chromosome. The feature concentrates on a Princeton study whose researchers found that men and women do not perceive leadership the same way; while women are less likely to seek out well-known leadership positions, they do aspire to managerial roles in which they feel they can facilitate activities. The study recommends a push for women to run for high-profile positions, rather than only managerial ones.

At Yale, there’s little doubt that women are capable of running a publication or leading any kind of organization. But nearly all the women interviewed who have lived in party suites acknowledged prior (and later disproved) skepticism about whether they’d be able to throw the kind of raucous parties their male predecessors had.

“Prejudice. It’s just pure prejudice, just like any other kind,” says David Crosson, a sophomore in Branford. I wander in and out of suites in Branford asking whether the Goddess Quad was any different from the God Quads that came before it. Though several students voiced a preference for the bros of 2011, their attitudes have more to do with an affinity for the prior members than with the way the suite functioned. Plopped on their common room couches, several juniors and seniors revel momentarily in nostalgia for God Quad 2010, a supposedly legendary group that had revived a slipping social scene and had taken freshmen under their wings. Their success was rooted in pure charisma and gregariousness; as visible members of the college and campus, they played brother figures to lost frosh.

Max Engelstein, one of these God Quad legends, has pointed out that whatever gender stereotypes may apply to “most females” or “most males,” they are probably negated by the fact that the God Quad is a self-selecting group. A group of girls who would rather stay in for “Sex and the City” reruns isn’t about to campaign to be the next popular campus pregame spot.

Taking all of that into account, though, there’s still a residue of unfounded sexism. All else held equal (speaker size, iPod playlist, quality of punch), there are still some differences between a party suite led by girls rather than guys. They’re prettier and cleaner. “They have more of an aesthetic touch. It’s more imaginative,” says former Branford master Steven Smith. The Goddess Quad and this year’s 12 Pack are dedicated to mopping, scrubbing, and recycling after every rowdy night. Eric Levine ’13, a previous member of Timothy Dwight’s octet, another similarly designated suite, holds this against the ladies. “They’re usually less willing to constantly be throwing parties because they value cleanliness,” he says.

Girls might also have more trouble with the logistics of defusing drunken fights or lifting furniture. Under the command of men, God Quad largely funded its parties with money made through a move-in service at the beginning of each school year, a lucrative strategy which, some say, girls are less able to capitalize on. “Though I guess a suite of diminutive men would face the same obstacles in this regard,” Engelstein notes. There’s the issue of technology, too: “We’re way worse at tech stuff … speakers have been a struggle bus,” Akers says jokingly.

The differences cited by critics are clearly ridiculous. So why do some students doubt these girls’ ability to measure out the simple ingredients required to cook up a rager? Are people uncomfortable depending on women for their important Saturday night plans? Is there some psychological factor at play that might prevent men, or women, from considering legitimate a party suite of women rather than one of men?

Mike Miles ’14 and Victor Bloch ’14 aspire to take on the God Quad their senior year. Their suite is already host to gatherings every weekend, and their walls are lined with dim neon strings of lights while a smoke machine waits out the weekdays in the fireplace. When asked why a female God Quad might face challenges, Miles suggests that the model of a college party is naturally that of a frat party, and it can be difficult for girls to fill a sort of “frat bro” role, or to be taken seriously doing it. That said, they hope to include a girl in the ranks of their God Quad and become a coed suite — which would be the first in God Quad’s history.

Female party hosts are trailed by certain social implications that play into gender dynamics and that can influence the type of crowds who filter in and out on weekends. “It seems as though girls who throw parties are resented more by other girls than guys who throw parties are resented by other guys,” Engelstein says. “Even if that’s not true, it is more important to get females to a party than males. It is a well-accepted fact that nobody wants to go to a sausage fest.” His general observations lead him to conjecture that male party suites have an easier time attracting younger female party-goers. And evolution has proven that where women go, men will follow.

Nevertheless, the gentle touch of a woman also has positive implications. Engelstein mentioned how girls are less likely to be branded “creepy” or “skeezy,” which might be to their advantage. “It’s hard if you have a lot of guys,” says Akers of the 12 Pack, which has welcomed its second group of girls since the suite’s renovation ten years ago. “It can be intimidating to show up if it’s not a big statement party. It’s not intimidating to party with girls.” She pauses, then adds, “We’re also extremely bro-y girls.”

However, these considerations are secondary to a party suite’s true road to success. As former master Smith says, “It cannot be viewed as a sprint, but as a marathon.” It’s a matter of persistence, motivation and character. “Each God Quad had a different personality,” he adds. And none of that depends on gender.

The women of the God Quad have embodied the “high profile” status that the Princeton study emphasizes. On a recent night in the God Quad I happened to hear a freshman guy ask one of the suite’s members, “You live here? Wow, you’re like a queen … you’re like royalty.” Being seen as a queen? The possibility made me wonder whether I’d ever like to be one of these Goddesses. As party-throwers, these women are widely visible while still taking on a “managerial” role, the kind that women feel allows for greater contribution. This year’s God Quad didn’t want to be viewed exclusively as a “party suite”; in addition to parties like “AMURRICA (one nation under God Quad),” the girls are highly involved in the Branford community through intramurals, the college council, the Buttery, and hosting events like their Parents’ Weekend Wine and Cheese gathering and the milk and cookies study break.

Perhaps with more Goddess Quads in command of the social realm — a realm that attracts a wider range of students than any individual extracurricular does — we can truly revise traditional notions of female capacity. Maybe women just need to show the world that they can throw down a decent party.

The other Saturday I found myself again in a crowded God Quad. The same beats, the same pulsing mass of sweaty bodies. I turned to a boy dancing frantically beside me. “So, what do you think about God Quad being girls?” I asked him. “It sucksss!” he slurred back at me before lolling his head away from my ruptured eardrum and resuming his general flailing.

Funny, really, because it seemed to me like he was having a pretty solid time.

Comments

  • theAvenger

    And you didn’t interview anyone in the Goddess Quad because…?

    • alsoanon

      pretty sure they didn’t want to explicitly connect their names with a room widely known for providing alcohol to minors.

  • cowcow

    In my opinion Tao Tao Holmes is an antiwhite racist. I say this because I just read in AP “Some Asians’ college strategy: Don’t check ‘Asian’” By JESSE WASHINGTON that “Does Holmes think children of American parents are generally spoiled and lazy by comparison? “That’s essentially what I’m trying to say.””

    I taught in China at university level for two years and there are MANY lazy and spoiled Chinese studentsl. Plagarism and cheating are rampant there. In fact many Chinese in American universities have test scores achieved by cheating and fake transcripts, phony personal essays and made up recommendations.

    To me it is Tao Tao who seems spoiled and lazy. Too lazy to do her research and instead resort to racist stereotypes. Is this what Yale produces these days?