It’s hard enough for Yale students to grab a beer together. Between interviews, Credit/D panics and a full-time job’s worth of extracurriculars, too often days turn into weeks turn into lost months before seeing old friends.
What’s more, as we get older our network — the stumbling combination of suitemates, friends from organizations and nights at Box — begins to take a more fixed shape. Our circle becomes the definitive lens by which we view Yale; wonderful, but innately narrow.
In the past, the University has made an effort to broaden these horizons, fostering events where the entire school, in all its eccentricities, could share common social experiences. Yet, over the last few years, capricious administrators and litigious outsiders have worked to change this trend. Take Safety Dance, for example. Tailgates — in a more slow and steady fashion — appear next in line.
Tailgates have been subject to increasing regulations. Next week will be the first time that The Game at Yale is subjected to all of them. What began with 21-plus wristbands and the end of charcoal grills has evolved into a ban on kegs, large vehicles and staying past kickoff. Granted, many of these changes have either been warranted or understandable. But together they have fallen to the law of unintended consequences, and the administration should take note of that.
If it is Yale’s goal to ensure that social events like tailgates are small, contained and comprehensively harmless — regardless of social cost — then the current regulations are right on track. But once that precedent is established, students should not be surprised when attention travels to the YSO Halloween Show, Spring Fling and, as has been reported on these pages, bar life off-campus. If the goal is to facilitate cultural outlets to the undergraduate community as a whole — balancing safety and efficiency — then it is time for the administration to revisit their policies with a renewed spirit of pragmatism.
In recent memory, tailgates looked very different than they do today. Once a boozy Extracurricular Bazaar — an array of residential colleges and student groups — equipped with a range of food, drinks and games, today it is home to a dedicated batch of upperclassmen moseying through discarded Modern Apizza boxes.
Of course, with any element of drinking culture there is a tension between the administrators and the administrated. Dean Mary Miller should absolutely take with a grain of salt the requests of what seems like just a group of costume-clad day-drinkers. And students should probably defer to the adults in the room when it comes to policies like the hard liquor ban. But some flexibility exists where modification of policy is not synonymous with Yale abandoning a commitment to safety.
Small changes can go a long way. Moving the end of the tailgate back to 2pm — while maintaining the wristbands and alcohol regulations — will encourage a fuller tailgate that actually carries over into the football game. As it stands now, the kickoff deadline only promotes earlier, heavier drinking amongst a vastly smaller group of people. Additionally, improving the large vehicle policy that has essentially regulated residential college and undergraduate group events out of existence is important. Even just permitting college masters, deans and approved individuals to drive over before start time would be a step in the right direction.
It’d be foolish not to recognize that the elephant in the room for this column lingers prodigiously larger for Yale’s administration. Changes to any policy relating to drinking, let alone here with its particular backdrop of tragedy, come at great personal and professional risk for administrators. Students should not fault Yale for its resolute dedication to do all it can to prevent future misery.
However, these factors should not prevent Yale from evaluating the effectiveness of her tailgate policies. Tread carefully, rather than not at all. Although a small school, we are one of many divisions: friend group to friend group, background to background, student to athlete. Common social settings are vital in bridging these gaps, and tailgates are traditionally fertile grounds for doing so.
With prudence and practicality, we can move closer to a tailgate that values both safety and vibrancy. But first, we need to realize when it is a false choice.
Harry Graver is a senior in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com.