On the night of Saturday, Sept. 29, scores of Yalies pulled on their neon legwarmers, teased their hair and prepared to belt out some Madonna.
But on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 2, they found a News headline that read “Safety Dance cancelled.” Though a makeshift tombstone put up later that week proclaimed that students were “never gonna give [Safety] up,” administrative decisions meant that, realistically, they had to.
In doing so, they joined generations of Yalies who saw their favorite parties fade away — and eventually found that they didn’t have to stop believing.
Safety Dance is the latest in a line of once-robust Yale-sponsored parties that have bitten the dust or devolved into lesser forms over the past decade. TD’s “Exotic Erotic” party reached its final climax in 2003; Pierson’s Halloween “Inferno” went up in flames that same year, though the fire was somewhat rekindled in 2008; and Morse-Stiles’ “Casino Night” went bust in 2008, though it clung on for dear life for two years as “Prohibition.”
For students, the loss of these parties hosted by residential colleges is troubling because it reduces the number of social options open to all Yalies, whatever their niches on campus.
“I’m sad to see [Safety] go, because I thoroughly love dances and there are very few, if any, college-wide dances in Commons that have that many people,” said Chelsea Savit ’13, who has attended the dance religiously over her past four years at Yale. “It’s the one dance that brought everyone together, that everyone on campus got together for.”
Large school-sponsored parties have traditionally been a vital part of Yale’s social scene. Their names — Safety, Crushes and Chaperones, Spring Fling, Screw — are circulated around campus by upperclassmen each year, passed down through the grapevine to freshmen in conversations that build up buzz. These more accessible, better-known events often draw substantially larger crowds than typical suite or frat parties.
Without them, students from different social groups at Yale would have fewer opportunities to mingle at the same events, said Audrey Ballard ’13.
Ballard, who said she associates with the Greek community on campus, added that some events not sponsored by residential colleges or University money simply are not “obviously open to all Yale students.”
Rachel O’Connell ’15, who does not drink, said school-sponsored parties are a “good alternative” to Yale’s Greek scene, adding that she considers them safer than other party situations.
“I found them integral to my social life personally, as someone who doesn’t like to rage all the time,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell is not alone in holding this view: the campus party scene, generally replete with alcohol, is widely considered an inimitable part of life at Yale. Alumni interviewed said that they recall themed parties — and, in some cases, their cancellations — as significant events in their time here.
“There were toga parties, julep parties to watch the Kentucky Derby, the Beaux Arts Ball at the Art and Architecture Schools, the St. A’s [Hall] Pump and Slipper Ball and the infamous Fence Club Gin Fountain party,” said Jesse Lovejoy ’66. “A very large number of students, probably a majority, attended them regularly.”
Speaking of her own experience 20 years on from Lovejoy’s time at Yale (and a decade after Yale College first admitted female undergraduates), Debra Bakal ’85 said Yalies in the early ’80s attended events at which beer flowed freely on the University’s dime, such as college social activities committee events and Feb Club parties for seniors.
But while attending a University often willing to pay for campus parties and alcohol might seems ideal for students, Yalies throughout the years have found that the administration is just as quick to put those festivities to an end at its own discretion.
For instance, Lovejoy said, Yale cancelled Julep Day and the Fence Club Gin Fountain to the outrage of the student body.
However, he added, such policies resulted in no significant change in campus life or the drinking habits of students.
The cancellation of Safety last week occurred amidst various other changes to social life policies, including revised tailgating rules, the banning of fall rush for Greek organizations and new mandatory registration requirements for off-campus gatherings of more than 50 people. While students said they understand why Yale seeks more control, many feel that changing administrative policies is unlikely to influence already-established binge drinking practices or reduce students’ desire to party.
“I think you’re just shifting it from their end destination being Safety Dance to their end destination being somewhere else, and I think a big venue like that with a lot of security is almost better to make sure that if someone is in trouble they’re getting help,” Ballard said. “But I think binge drinking is going to continue.”
Students said alcohol consumption is seen as a way to feel more comfortable in social situations or to disconnect from the stresses that they said characterize life at Yale.
“I have … friends who I think are just frustrated with how difficult school life is and I think it provides a really nice escape for them to just let loose and relax,” O’Connell said.
Ballard said she believes Yale student culture promotes the idea that drinking is a critical part of “having fun,” and that that manifests itself in heavy pre-game drinking seen as necessary before a night out.
According to a Syracuse University study titled “Peer influences on college drinking,” college campuses incubate social expectations that lead to binge levels of consumption. Such pressure, the research shows, comes in the form of overt offers of alcohol, the promotion of pro-drinking social norms and the establishment of excessive drinking practices as normal behavior imitated by others.
Savit said she has been part of peer groups exerting such pressure.
“I was involved in organizations my freshman year that binge drank every weekend,” she said.
But students added that the appeal of such binge drinking seems tied to age and campus seniority.
“I think things get less shiny and exciting after freshman year,” said Alex Haden ’14.
Without the illicit allure initially attached to heavy drinking by those who are underage, some Yalies said they come to favor a less alcohol-soaked social scene.
“When I turned 21, the appeal of drinking just disappeared,” Savit said. “That happened with a lot of my friends too.”
This trend is not a new one on Yale’s campus, Lovejoy said. He added that the process of learning “to work and focus and find the proper balance of fun and work was an important part of maturing.”
Stephen Feigenbaum ’12 MUS ’13, a former member of Yale’s Committee on Hazing and Initiations, said in an email that he shares this view on the evolution of perspectives on drinking.
There is, he suggested, a clear solution to the problems within Yale’s drinking culture, one that doesn’t require administrative action.
“Everyone agrees (including Yale’s administration) that the solution to this would be lowering the drinking age back to 18 so colleges don’t have to fight drinking and don’t risk liabilities associated with kids drinking underage,” Feigenbaum wrote.
After all, college students — even the underage ones — just wanna have fun.