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The curtains were drawn. The living room — though filled with balloons — was empty. Crude, duct-tape arrows lined the walls of the narrow hallway, leading visitors down bare-board stairs. Partygoers dodged overhead air ducts as they walked through the basement, attempting to stabilize their footing on the uneven cement floor. The hum of techno music reverberated off the crumbling, whitewashed walls.

A soft cheer struggled to compete with the music.

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“Five, four, three, two, one … Happy New Year!”

The partygoers were a month late. It was Feb. 1, and only 30 people were cheering.

At midnight, the sparsely attended and thematically conflicted New Year’s Eve/Stoplight party at 174 Park Street kicked off one of Yale’s oldest party traditions: Feb Club. The annual Yale extravaganza — organized for the first time over 30 years ago — features a different party for seniors every night during the bleakness of February.

The 2008 version of Feb Club is a far cry from version that was born in the 1970s. Where the organization of the event was once loose and spontaneous, open to all undergraduates, Feb Club has now turned into four weeks of rigidly structured off-campus parties open exclusively to paying or party-hosting seniors.

To some students — like those unwilling to cough up $29 to participate throughout the month and those who favor a more grassroots approach to Feb Club — the changes are unwelcome. When Feb Club closed its doors to new members four days into the month’s festivities, some students felt marginalized by what they perceived as exclusion from a now-official class-wide event.

While Feb Club may appear wounded, however, it’s certainly not dead: A large, devoted following of seniors eager to revel in the freedom of their last semester in college have signed up to attend this month’s parties and received the requisite light blue rubber bracelet for party admission. And for the first time this year, former Elis have the option of attending the new Feb Club Emeritus, a series of gatherings in cities across the world at which alumni can network, socialize, reminisce — and relive the debauchery of their undergraduate days.

As access to Feb Club parties has expanded off campus, however, some students are feeling left out in the February cold. But as the institution enters its 31st year, some students are beginning to question whether Feb Club remains an inclusive, class-wide activity or whether the process of going mainstream has made Yale’s favorite party tradition rigid and bureaucratized.

‘29 days of missed opportunity’

Late on Feb. 1, as partygoers trickled into 174 Park St. for their first evening of paid-for fun, a gushing stream of thrill-seeking seniors rushed into Hot Tomato’s on College Street — The Senior Class Council was sponsoring a class-wide event on the first night of Feb Club.

The SCC party had been planned long before the first night of Feb Club, SCC lead representative Tiffany Pham ’08 said, and the two events were not intended to conflict. To minimize overlap between the two parties, the SCC began its event several hours before the Feb Club party. By 12:30 a.m., however, there were far more sloshed seniors at Hot Tomato’s than at the Park Street house.

“As a result [of the conflict], not a lot of people were at Feb Club on that first night,” Pham said, noting that the SCC had scheduled its gathering in December.

While the SCC is responsible for planning events for the entire senior class, the Council is not directly associated with and in no way sponsors Feb Club, Pham said. Two of the Feb Club committees’s four organizers — Jessica Kimball ’08 and Angel Enriquez ’08 — also serve on the SCC, but the SCC has not worked with Feb Club beyond allowing Feb Club use of its class-wide panlist, Pham said.

Borrowing ideas from their service on the SCC, Kimball and Enriquez have employed a committee-based approach to organizing and hosting this year’s nightly parties. Students interested in hosting were required to apply by submitting three top party themes, three preferred party dates, an intended location and a host-list.

Matt Dell ’08, host of the first Feb Club party this year, praised the the Feb Club party-planning process as “well organized,” noting that his only job was to purchase alcohol and prepare his house for the 300-odd guests who would stream through his house in the course of the evening.

And Jessica Bialecki ’08 said the parties offer a unique, extended opportunity for bonding among members of the senior class.

“You see a lot of people you normally don’t see in your social circles and residential colleges,” she said. “It’s something for the senior class to look forward to. It’s kind of like the pinnacle of your Yale experience.”

But Katherine Wells ’08 described this year’s Feb Club social scene as ”non-inclusive and expensive” and said e-mails sent by Feb Club organizers to the senior class made the organization seem “kind of bureaucratic” with their deadlines and protocols.

“It’s ridiculous,” she complained. “I don’t understand what the point of Feb Club is if you make it a social club that you have to pay [for]. It’s being run like a miniature business. Those aren’t really the kinds of parties I want to go to.”

While several members of the class of 2008 said they appreciated the fact that all seniors were invited to join Feb Club officially, some also expressed disapproval at the structure of the organization.

Zelda Roland ’08, who hosted a separate party on the same night of the first Feb Club event, described the organization as “bureaucratic,” saying she thinks her party was probably more successful than Feb Club’s. She said she admired the attempt to make Feb Club more inclusive, but she said that restricting membership to seniors who signed up in time undermined this effort.

“It’s just a feeling of 29 days of missed opportunity,” Roland said, adding that she would have preferred the more impromptu nature of party-planning in past years.

For Michael Lindsay ’08, the exclusiveness of Feb Club has merely created a logistical hassle. The more structured nature of this year’s Feb Club — which in previous years was more of a ground-up phenomenon that didn’t rely on a formal hierarchy to organize parties — is not objectionable, Lindsay said, but like several other seniors who signed up, he still has not received a bracelet.

“Initially there was an organizational hiccup, and I know that got a lot of people angry,” he said. “A number of people fell through the cracks.”

Partygoers were not the only seniors to express frustration.

One upcoming party host said it took over a week to receive a reply to his request to host a party.

“I e-mailed them 3 times to find out what date we were hosting so I could plan my life,” he said. “It just seems like they’re doing everything at the last minute and not really organized. I guess it’s indicative of all the SCC, so it’s not that surprising.”

Bringing together the entire senior class?

But this year’s structure is actually more inclusive than that of previous years, according to Kimball. The past two years, Feb Club parties were run by and for a select group of seniors, she explained, and organizers this year chose to offer all members of the class a chance to join in order to make it less insulated.

During the first week back from break, seniors received e-mails advertising Feb Club and inviting them to join. Students were given until Jan. 22 to sign up and after paying the $29 fee, signing up to host a party or offering to help work at a party, they received pale blue wristbands designating them as Feb Club members. Within a week, parties had been scheduled for all 29 days, Kimball said.

“We wanted to make it something that was more accessible,” she said. “It’s really about bringing together the entire senior class. It’s no longer this exclusive, hipster kind of thing.”

But inclusion could only go so far. On Feb. 4, seniors received an e-mail from Feb Club leaders informing them that there were no more slots available.

Why was Feb Club filled to capacity? Wristbands.

“We bought the 500-bracelet packet, which pretty much set our limit,” Kimball said. “[It was an] arbitrary limit based on the number of bracelets we had. If people had gotten to us before the deadline, we would have guaranteed them a spot on Feb Club. We just can’t allow them in now.”

A small batch of bracelets will be ordered for seniors who had initially been told they could host parties, Kimball said, meaning the current total of Feb Club members hovers around 550.

Enriquez also said security, safety and logistical concerns arise when hosting a party for more than 500 people at once. Furthermore, concerns about underage drinking are eliminated by limiting access to seniors.

“We’re just trying to avoid administrative repercussions by restricting it to seniors only,” she said. “Yes, we may have lost a little bit of spontaneity … [but] the idea behind Feb Club was that the senior community could get together on any given day and have some fun.”

Ed West ’79, a member of an assemblage of friends who started Feb Club in 1977, highlighted the irony of sophomores having founded the tradition, given that sophomores are now ineligible to attend.

Sloane Sevran ’95, who attended Feb Club parties throughout her four years at Yale, called the current age restrictions “really unfortunate.”

“It was nice when I was there,” she said. “There were plenty of events that were seniors only, and I think Feb Club was a nice thing for everybody.”

“How are we going to get through the winter?”

It was February 1978. Students packed into a stairway in Calhoun College, clogging the entryway in search of alcohol and entertainment. They had come for what would be one of the best-remembered parties of Feb Club that year — the “Skip and Go Naked Party.”

So, can Feb Club be credited for beginning the first of Yale’s infamous naked parties?

“[It was] not nearly as exciting as it sounds,” said the party’s co-host, Anne Forrest ’79. “There were no clothes being taken off.”

Skip and Go Naked — a punch made with lemonade, Sprite, vodka and beer — was the drink of choice for the night’s themed party. Alcohol was a key component of all Feb Club parties, said Anne Forrest ’79, noting that during the 1970s the legal drinking age was 18.

“Just imagine how different our campus was: Alcohol flowed pretty freely. … Calhoun would always have a Thursday night happy hour,” she said. “We didn’t have to hide from the administration. We didn’t have to register at all. So, parties with alcohol weren’t a big deal.”

Although Monie Hardwick ’78 maintains that the organization was created by seniors, all other alumni interviewed said the organization was always open to all undergraduates. The generally accepted story, according to those alumni, holds that Feb Club was founded in 1977 by a group of sophomores across several residential colleges.

“We must have been sitting around,” West said. “I remember asking, ‘How are we going to get through the winter? It’s cold. It’s dark. There’s nothing fun to do.’ ”

In 1977, the parties were open to members of all grades, and the vast majority were held on campus. Still, the lack of computers, cell phones and even answering machines made it difficult for students to learn about the parties far in advance, so parties generally remained small and attendance remained low.

The parties were loosely organized, haphazard and — above all — free. West said the original list of party hosts, themes and locations was scrawled on a single sheet of paper.

“Our parties were pretty sedate,” he said. “Back in the ’70s, people weren’t really testing limits. [But] there was definitely a lot of drinking.”

Within a year or two, attendance at parties had doubled, and students planning the parties became increasingly organized. In 1978, one group of seniors hosted its own Feb Club, which was open exclusively to seniors as they worked on their theses, said Feb Club member Monie Hardwick ’78. By 1979, when the founders graduated, there was no expectation that Feb Club would continue, West said.

But it did more than just continue — it thrived.

Throughout the 1980s, Feb Club became increasingly popular as communication among participants improved. Parties began to move to off-campus locations to accommodate the swelling numbers of weekend partygoers; and repeated changes to the drinking age between 1983 and 1987 and the DKE fraternity’s acquisition of its first house pushed the organization into the jock/frat campus niche.

“The University’s policies about drinking and whatnot changed during our time [at Yale],” former Feb Club leader Tim Harkness ’87 said. “Feb Club as a result has changed with it.”

By the late ’80s, DKE had taken ownership of Feb Club parties, parceling out party dates to different fraternities and other campus organizations. And throughout the ’90s, DKE was synonymous with Feb Club, appointing brothers as organizers of the month-long event. The fraternities tended to host the large weekend parties, while on-campus parties became the norm for the middle of the week, said Chris Ryan ’99, DKE’s Feb Club organizer in 1997.

Planning became more complex as well.

“We started planning several months in advance,” Ryan said. “We’d release a schedule. Every year we’d put out a themed T-shirt with the schedule on the back to help get exposure.”

But the T-shirts produced an unforeseen backlash, giving Yale administrative officials — armed with tougher underage drinking policies — a guide to the month’s parties. The appearance of campus police at Feb Club parties happened with increasing frequency, Ryan said.

As a result, Feb Club lasted only a few years into the new millennium. Still, the spirit did not die. Parties remained open to both underclassmen and upperclassmen, and students from a wide cross-section of campus life attended, former Feb Club member Katie Troutman ’02 said.

“You couldn’t generalize about the people who went [to Feb Club],” she said. “There were jocks, you name it. Basically an entire cross section of the Yale community enjoyed it.”

By the mid-1990s, new Connecticut drinking laws and the University’s strict stance against underage drinking spelled the end of Feb Club.

But Feb Club wouldn’t stay dead for long.

Thayer Hardwick ’06, daughter of Monie Hardwick ’78, revived Feb Club as a senior-only program in 2006 based on her mother’s recollection that the event was originally limited to second-semester seniors.

“Feb Club for Old People”

The Facebook group “Feb Club for Old People” has over 1,450 members — more than the number of Yalies in the class of 2008. Wall posts from organizers announce that over 3,100 Yale alumni have confirmed their attendance at one of the 29 parties being hosted around the world this month.

Harkness created Feb Club for Old People — now known by its classier title, “Feb Club Emeritus” — in mid-October.

“At one of the class lunches I said, ‘We should bring Feb Club back,’ ” he said. “The whole idea was that if we have the spontaneous, informal atmosphere of the Feb Club we had as undergraduates, it would give us a place to get together as a group.”

Through Facebook and a new Web site, Feb Club Emeritus has brought together former Eli partygoers from four different decades. Those logging onto the Web site last week were immediately greeted by a voice recording of John Belushi’s famous line from “Animal House”: “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

While New York will boast the most parties of any metropolitan area — four total — there will also be parties in New Orleans, Silicon Valley, Aruba and Winter Park, Colo. And on Feb. 26, the group will host events on five continents in seven different cities: Barcelona, Calgary, Johannesburg, London, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo.

The kickoff events in New York, held at two different locations, drew more partygoers than Yale’s first Feb Club event this year — over 500, compared to the roughly 300 Kimball estimated attended the first senior event. In Los Angeles, over 200 loyal Feb Club alumni made it to a Beverly Hills hotel on the second night of the month.

The night’s festivities featured traditions taken directly from the participants’ undergraduate days.

“Somebody flew in actual Mory’s cups and had the recipes for some of the drinks for Mory’s,” attendee and former Feb Club member Sloane Sevran ’95 said. “People were singing the Mory’s song and doing Mory’s cups.”

Feb Club Emeritus even had its own special Mory’s cup engraved with the Feb Club logo. Alumni also joined in the Tang drinking competition, another famous Yale tradition DKE hosts every year. The contest was fitting, Sevran said, since it would be impossible to imagine Feb Club without DKE.

“That lack of formality made [Feb Club] a lot more fun,” Harkness said. “That’s what we’re trying to preserve.”