The death of the great Yale party

Sometimes — and not just in action movies — your greatest strength can turn out to be your greatest weakness.

Look at the recent cancellations of two of Yale’s most notorious parties, the Pierson Inferno and Exotic Erotic. The wild, all-campus residential college party has a continuity problem: it thrives on its reputation for (Ivy League-grade) debauchery, but when people feeding off this reputation cause too much destruction, the parties self-destruct.

Earlier this month, Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt said the college would no longer host Inferno, its (formerly) annual all-school Halloween party. His announcement came almost a year after Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Thompson cancelled Exotic Erotic, a TD party once famous for its “the less you wear, the less you pay” slogan.

The masters cited the same problems: too many years with too many partiers, too much out-of-control drunkenness, and too much damage to college property. Both colleges called off the parties when they moved into Swing Space while their colleges underwent renovations.

TD was renovated in 2001, so this year’s seniors are the last class left on campus that got to see a real Exotic Erotic. Laura Pailler ’04, a student in TD, said she remembers having fun despite being a little overdressed and overwhelmed. But her night was marked by more than a simple overabundance of flesh when a student put his hand through the window of her entryway and bled all over the bathroom.

But the party had its positive aspects, students say, such as including the entire Yale community.

Irina Magidina ’04 said she remembered Exotic Erotic because, as the first big party of the year, it brought everyone together and gave them their first chance to go “all-out.” But she said part of the party’s fun was that it lived up to its reputation for debauchery.

“Part of what makes it so fun is that there are so many people and it does get a bit out of control,” Magidina said.

Some say a little wildness has its place, even — especially — at an Ivy League school. Piersonite Mike Kai ’05 said he sees merit in an occasional “wild night of debauchery” for Yale students.

“We want to be able to throw parties you’ll be able to tell your friends about back home,” Kai said.

Pierson College Council chair Dan Bernstein ’05 said he understands the reasons behind cancelling Inferno, but he and PCC are “very disappointed” the party cannot be held in Pierson this year.

“There’s an obvious void,” Bernstein said.

Pallier said Inferno did not always have such an important place in the Yale social scene. She said Exotic Erotic was the wildest party on campus her freshman year, but after it was cancelled, Inferno took on a new role. She said she wonders if the buck will now be passed to a different party. Exotic Erotic took place mostly in the TD courtyard, a situation she said lent itself to a more chaotic party than one held in a dining hall.

But Inferno had its own share of chaos. Last year, bike locks used to secure an underground gate between Davenport and Pierson were bent open and students used an expensive table from the college to break a door down. The police who provided security at the party last year told Goldblatt they would not return to staff Inferno again, he said.

Goldblatt said when he saw the pieces of the broken table, he knew the party could not go on as it had.

“That’s when I decided that enough was enough and that I would not be able to support a university-wide event such as the Inferno,” Goldblatt said.

He added that his feelings were “conditioned to some degree” by the fact that there had been considerable vandalism and theft in Pierson in the past few years. The Pierson crest had been stolen and an expensive carved wooden table destroyed.

Goldblatt said he thinks Inferno got out of control because of Halloween, the party’s large size, and students’ “regrettable and constant association between fun and alcohol.” But even though this happened on “more than one occasion,” he said, he did not cancel the party in past years because of its popularity with Piersonites. His dilemma exemplifies the tough place masters often find themselves in, he said.

“The Master of a college has to balance continuously between what he or she views as in the best interests of the college and the interests and desires of its students,” Goldblatt said.

Some Piersonites said they could not care less that Inferno has been cancelled. Stephanie Tang ’05 said she has done other things than Inferno on her past two Halloweens and thinks that the college has other traditions — such as Tuesday Night Club, a weekly courtyard party — on which to pride itself.

“I know it’s a Pierson tradition or whatever, but there’s a lot more to PC than Inferno,” Tang said. “Inferno isn’t going to make it or break it — I guess it’s a shame that we can’t have it, but I don’t think it’s too horrible or anything. There’s nothing we can do about it since we’re in Swing Space, anyway.”

But some make the effort to fill the “void.” From the first year Exotic Erotic was called off, replacement parties have sprung up.

The club Risk hosted one in 2001. The Surf Club is throwing an Exotic Erotic Luau at Alchemy tonight. Coordinator Theresa Nguyen ’05, who works for a modeling agency in New Haven, got the idea for the Luau from Kai, she said, who suggested a swimsuit calendar featuring female Yalies. The party will feature a bikini contest and a hard body contest, she said.

“We’re using Exotic Erotic to get people to show up in little clothing,” Nguyen said. “It just seemed to be the appropriate thing to go along with a bikini contest.” She added that even though she never went to a real Exotic Erotic, she was dissatisfied with a replacement party she went to her freshman year.

“It didn’t seem like real EE,” she said. “No one really showed up with any less-than-clubby clothing. A couple girls showed up in thongs but that was pretty much the extent of it.”

Nguyen said she thought people might have been modest because the party was not exclusive to Yalies, and admitted that the Surf Club might encounter similar problems even though their party will be in a private room.

As for Halloween, the Branford College party suite God Quad will throw a large-scale Halloween party in the Branford dining hall, God Quad resident Michael Seibel ’04 said. Inferno may even happen — albeit in another incarnation. Bernstein said PCC is working with the Yale Student Activities Committee to plan an all-campus Halloween party in Commons Dining Hall. Jackie Carter ’07, the Yale Student Activities Committee representative who is chairing the party, said the dance is in the early planning stages but might take place after a meet-and-greet with President Levin in Commons.

Carter said the groups are still undecided as to whether they will call the party “Inferno” because the Yale Police Department refused to patrol the Inferno after last year’s party. But she said YSAC would like to work with Pierson to give the event continuity.

“We didn’t want to steal the party from [Pierson],” Carter said.

But some college masters raise the question of whether it is the residential college’s place to throw parties for the whole school, especially when the events that draw the most people seem to get the most out-of-control.

Jonathan Edwards College Master Gary Haller, whose college hosts a “Spider Ball” each spring for JE students and their dates, said he thinks it is “not at all” the job of a residential college to throw parties for the whole school. He said he thinks Spider Ball’s comparatively low attendance and students’ perception of the event as more formal than a party like Inferno help keep it under control.

“Of course there ought to be university-wide things, but this is the Yale College Council’s business,” Haller said.

Goldblatt said he “would tend to agree” with Haller’s view on the matter.

“I think things work better when you have a party where there are only the residents of a particular college,” Goldblatt said. “I have a feeling, a hope there’s distinction between the Pierson students who care deeply about our resources and students from other colleges who might care a little less.”

He said that “down the road” he would be willing to discuss holding an event in the tradition of Inferno but limited to Piersonites.

Morse Master Frank Keil, whose college co-hosts a Casino Night and dance party every fall with Ezra Stiles College, said he thinks Yale-wide parties have a place in the residential colleges because they give members of the hosting college a chance to be creative in planning. But he added that the “classy” atmosphere and various activities — such as gambling — offered at Casino Night may help keep it under control. As long as students are interested in planning and working on such parties, he said, he would like to see them go on.

“I’d like to see them make a comeback, but people are going to have to show a little common sense and a little restraint,” Keil said.

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