Two Novembers ago, Karlo Dizon ’06 — then an eager and wide-eyed freshman — made the trip from New Haven to Cambridge with only grand expectations for The Game’s after-parties. Though he endured a heart-wrenching Bulldog loss that Saturday afternoon, he remained optimistic: after all, the Harvard victory would translate into even wilder celebrations, he thought. Instead, Dizon ended up wandering the streets of Cambridge in a futile search for some fun. Now a jaded junior, he confesses to having surrendered to a popular Yale belief — Harvard doesn’t know how to party.
The institution of tailgating regulations by the Harvard administration has fueled attacks from students at both schools, as Elis have grown concerned that this weekend’s parties will be no better than mediocre. But while some Cantabs admit partying at Harvard is more of a hassle than it should be, others insist Harvard boasts a healthy nightlife.
Although Harvard does not officially recognize fraternities and sororities, that does not mean they do not exist. The majority of fraternities do not, however, have houses, making it difficult for some Harvard students to locate parties.
“People feel like the parties at Harvard suck because most people don’t know where the party is at,” Harvard sophomore Kevin Chan said. “Some blame it on the fact that it is because we don’t have a Greek system. However, there are consistent parties irregardless of frat houses.”
But apart from the lack of fraternity houses, the Harvard party scene is set up very similarly to what Yalies enjoy in New Haven. Harvard students throw room parties as many Yalies do, and while alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited in the freshman dorms of Harvard Yard, Harvard students say finding drinks is hardly a problem. The upperclassman houses — Harvard’s counterparts of Yale’s residential colleges — also sponsor themed parties and have designated party suites, such as Currier House’s Ten Men and Eliot House’s Ground Zero.
Harvard students say when it comes to stepping into a party, the social life at the two schools are virtually indistinguishable. Harvard senior Joe Jackson called the parties themselves “almost identical,” citing the same kegs, hip-hop music and “dancing on a sticky linoleum floor” in a crowded room.
In fact, Crimson junior Felipe Tewes said even after his experience at last year’s Harvard-Yale Game in New Haven, he has yet to be convinced Yalies enjoy a better social life.
“I personally got the vibe last year that Yale people were trying to show us that they party a lot, but I think they were trying a little too hard to come off that way,” Tewes said.
Yet while some Harvard students argued Yale and Harvard’s social situations may be uncannily similar, other Cantabs said their party scene suffers from several significant limitations. One female student, who asked not to be identified, complained that parties have to end early because of complaints from either residential neighbors or the resident masters.
In addition, some students said the interspersing of Harvard residence halls throughout the community can make it frustratingly necessary to scour all of Cambridge to find one worthwhile event.
Harvard sophomore David Martin said there are always parties throughout the houses, but that it is difficult to find a good one and stay there. Instead, he and his friends move from party to party in a group.
As mandated by Cambridge law, all Harvard room and house parties must shut down by 2 a.m. This rule is enforced without fail by the Harvard University Police.
“It’s kind of understood,” Tewes said. “We’re waiting for them to show up.”
But although students acknowledge such regulations can be a hassle, some say they cannot be helped. Sophomore Sandra Di Capua said Harvard’s administration gives undergraduates as much leeway as it can.
“It’s not Miami, it’s not South Beach — they’re Puritan law, and Harvard has to go with them,” she said. “But they’re very accommodating, to the extent that they can be.”
Once parties are shut down, some Harvard partygoers proceed to afterparties at finals clubs, which constitute the most well-known social organizations at Harvard.
A finals club is much like a fraternity with the prestige of a secret society. Rather than tapping new members, these primarily all-male organizations “punch” them after putting potential candidates through a rigorous selection process. Though finals club parties are a popular option, their exclusivity closes them off to a limited number of students.
Male students not associated with any finals clubs admit they are sharply limited in terms of afterparty options. Yet Martin insisted it is not a hopeless situation.
“It’s not as impossible getting in as a guy if you have friends in them,” he said. “I think I can fend for myself when it comes to parties.”
Some students also pointed to the strength of less mainstream parties, such as the events sponsored by minority groups on campus. Tewes said the Latino groups he is involved in host “really good” parties — ones that involve more than the usual standing around and drinking.
Regardless of the long-standing rumors about Harvard’s night life and the controversy swirling over the new rules, Cantabs said they will still show Elis a good time this weekend, as long as Yalies arrive in Cambridge with an open mind.
“Don’t be pessimistic about it — there are going to be great parties,” Di Capua said. “You’re coming all the way from New Haven, you might as well come with a notion to have fun.”
“We party too, even if you guys don’t think so,” he said.
Martin speculated that the finals clubs, which recently closed their respective punching processes, might be a little less exclusive for The Game. In addition, he and other Harvard students cited a special party package currently on sale at hahvahdparties.com, a student-run Web site. The pass includes admission to Harvard-Yale-only parties at clubs on Lansdowne Street in Boston as well as free transportation from Harvard Square.
And even though many Harvard students were outraged at the tailgating regulations, some said they are not worried by their administration’s tough stance, as they trust that Harvard only has the students’ best interests in mind.
“They’re just really nervous,” Tewes said. “People are like, ‘Yeah, they’re trying to ruin the Harvard-Yale Game,’ but they’re just really scared of people dying from alcohol poisoning.”
Yet in spite of her classmates’ optimism, Harvard senior Elizabeth Greene advised Yalies to be prepared with contingency plans should their party options fall through.
“Bring your homework,” she said.