For a special occasion, I recently decided to make an exception to my typical weekend habits.
It was the Friday night before the Harvard-Yale Game, and the campus was buzzing with activity. I was where I always am these days — in the Reporters’ Room of 202 York St., the Yale Daily News building. But that night, the scene was a little different. The room — normally a site of productivity — was packed and lively.
Although I was not used to this vibe at all, I tried to enjoy myself. As people continued to trickle in, I stood to the side, sipping uncertainly from my drink — it tasted like radioactive bacon fat — while chatting up my fellow YDNers and attempting to meet some Crimsonites. “It’s a mixer!” a friend slurred into my ear. “Mix!”
But the crowd grew, the lights flickered, the music blared and then someone went ahead and spilled beer on me. Suddenly, I became aware of where I was and all the people around me, and I froze. For the remainder of my time at the party, I stayed silent and stared straight ahead, with only my thoughts to entertain me.
What caused me to clam up like this? The crowds? The Cantabs? The uniquely putrid stench of the alcohol, body odor and fluid exchange mixed into one? My all-too-self-conscious mind has run through this question time and again without reaching a conclusive answer. All I know is that many times in the past, similar situations have turned me — a shy but usually sociable person — into an archetypal INFJ, with Introversion in font size 72. As a result, after months of uncomfortable Fridays and recuperative Saturdays, I made the decision at the beginning of my second semester at Yale to adopt “staying in” as my default weekend status.
But the more pressing question that I continue to ponder every weekend (and Wednesdays — thanks, Toad’s!) is whether or not I’m missing out on a part of the Yale experience when I spend nights in bed or at the library. I worry that I’ll have fewer friends, memories and adventures to speak about once I graduate, or that I should be using these pockets of free time to “network,” as one close friend calls it, with some of the world’s future leaders.
On the eve of The Game, it didn’t take long for me to tire of the party. Pushing through the crowd at 202 York, I made my way out of the building and started in the direction of Pierson. “Wesley!” I heard my name shouted from within, so I glanced back at the first floor window. Inside, the crowd was still pulsing. Amid the moving bodies of dancers and drinkers, my caller was nowhere to be found.
As I gazed into the building from where I was standing outside in the cold, I wondered once again whether or not I was supposed to feel lonely.
* * *
When I called Madeline Yozwiak ’14 late on a Wednesday evening, she was just finishing up a problem set. A little earlier in the night, she had been busy baking treats to surprise and congratulate a friend after her exam.
Two years ago, Yozwiak might have instead spent most of the day scrambling to finish homework in preparation for a night at Woad’s.
Yozwiak, like me, was unfamiliar with the concept of nightlife upon first arriving at Yale. During her high school years, her closest friends from school lived 45 minutes away. The obstacle of distance meant that “going out” was simply not an option.
Upon arriving at Yale, Yozwiak said the party culture took her by surprise.
“There was a certain type of socializing that I didn’t expect,” Yozwiak said. “That’s not to say it was bad — it just wasn’t something that I was used to.” She added that much of the pressure to party is implicit. Even benign questions during Sunday brunch — “So what did you do last night?” — indicate a subtle stigma against staying in, Yozwiak noted, as students feel obligated to have stories prepared about crazy parties they attended the night before.
Such sentiments are often shared by similarly inexperienced students. But Katie Byrnes, assistant chaplain at St. Thomas More Chapel who assists with providing alternatives to partying at the Chapel’s Golden Center, pointed out that Yalies from all sorts of backgrounds are often initially overwhelmed by the collegiate party culture.
“Students assume that everyone else is partying in this amazing Instagram life,” she said. “They don’t realize that some of us are just at home doing laundry and watching TV.”
Bernard Stanford ’17 — who lived and attended high school in New York City — agreed that the quick formations of party communities within the freshman class surprised him.
Even before they step into their first classes, freshmen are inundated with information and advice on Yale’s party culture. This summer, the University premiered its new online alcohol education course, which showcases Yale students demonstrating appropriate drinking practices. Then, during Camp Yale, freshmen counselors shuttle students from workshop to workshop, covering topics such as campus safety, alcohol consumption and communication and consent. While these efforts were clearly designed for the protection and safety of students, they go further than merely acknowledge the University’s party culture — they assume that it represents the core of undergraduate social life.
Both Stanford and Yozwiak found the party culture discomfiting. Yozwiak described her previous routines as exhausting — especially during stressful academic periods — as she often had to run from place to place or transition abruptly from working to socializing. Stanford is usually reluctant to socialize or take initiative in entropic party environments — a shyness that he attributes to a childhood stutter.
But while Stanford and his suitemates share similar habits, Yozwiak was a member of Yale’s sailing team, with whom she partied every Wednesday and on weekends when they didn’t travel. After Yozwiak quit her team halfway through her sophomore year, she did not know how to spend her free time anymore. Every Wednesday that rolled past without a visit to Toad’s felt weird at first, she said.
“It took me a really long time — until the end of sophomore year — to realize that people were doing other things,” she said. Eventually, she found herself looking forward to spending time with talking with friends or studying together at Blue State. This realization, she said, made her junior and senior years much more bearable.
Reflecting back on her freshman year, Yozwiak proposed that freshmen may find it difficult to navigate the undergraduate social scene because they feel that they have to pick one of two different paths to pursue: either to shed their nerdy innocence completely, or to completely reject partying on moral grounds. It took Stanford a few days, me a few months and Yozwiak a year or two before we discovered that there existed an entire spectrum of other possible social identities.
* * *
Sometimes, Yale feels like the campus that never sleeps, a place with no shortage of evening activities. Weekend nights, the campus becomes peppered with hotspots that serve drinks and attract huge crowds while promising attendees a good time. Pregames, frat parties, suite get-togethers, screws and University-sponsored events are just some manifestations of this trend. According to Madison Moore GRD ’13, who studied parties and nightlife during his time at Yale, such splintering of the campus makes sense.
“Everyone has [experienced] a nightlife culture or some sort of celebratory moment,” he said, adding that these moments may also include smaller social events: a dinner party, going to see a show with someone else or a small gathering of friends.
Most weekends during my freshman year, I ended up with some friends at Global Grounds — a cozy reinterpretation of the Dwight Hall space, laid out with tables, board games and food. It was where I went to find a calm refuge from the raucous atmosphere of Old Campus just on the other side of the door.
Across campus, similar spaces can be found. St. Thomas More has its equivalent, the Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Center, which offers movie screenings, discussion groups and other events in addition to food and a study space. While both of these spaces are run by religious groups, Byrnes said neither is restrictive in its target attendees or programming.
“The point of [the Golden Center] was to create a space for students,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether they are Catholic or not. Our mission is hospitality.”
For students who find that spaces like the Golden Center aren’t far enough removed from the campus festivities, Cody Hooks ’14 suggests that they look into off-campus living. Hooks, who manages a weekend potluck group for students living off-campus, said being ingrained in the residential college experience — and, more broadly, in the campus culture — can be intense and tiresome. During his first two years in Trumbull College, Hooks attended some parties, which he enjoyed at the time. By junior year, however, he said he “got over college life.” Now, he spends weekends at home, going to shows, at bars or seeing midnight screenings at the Criterion Cinemas.
Hooks emphasized that his potlucks were less about countering party culture than they were about community building. He believes that many students who live off campus are looking for alternatives to the residential college construct, which is what he hopes to provide with the potlucks that he hosts.
Byrnes also believes in building alternative communities instead of avoiding or opposing traditional Yale parties. She hopes that freshmen who normally only attend parties or similar events because they feel the need to do so will consider the Golden Center — a comfortable space and viable community where students are meant to feel safe and welcomed.
After all, Moore said, while nightlife and celebratory activities are often about entertainment and letting loose, they are also about interacting with new people and making social connections that normally would not be made.
“College isn’t just about taking classes,” he said. “It’s about learning how to be social.”
* * *
I sat in a Pierson common room across from Pearson Miller ’14 and Alaric D’Souza ’14, two seniors who have been friends since freshman year. At several points in the conversation, they seemed to forget that I was there, their thoughts turning to memories of earlier years on campus. They reminisced like an old couple, and sometimes completed each other’s sentences.
Although they weren’t suitemates freshman year, Miller and D’Souza found each other and a larger group of friends because they all lived in the same entryway. Approximately half of the them tended to stay in on weekends, Miller said, which made it easy for the group to bond and spend time together. Some nights they would play video games, but most of the time, the friends would just talk. In fact, they had so many subjects to cover that they compiled a list of conversation topics that grew as the year went on. Containing everything from “suicide” to “Which X-Men character would you be?” the list was inexhaustible.
Like several other students interviewed, Miller and D’Souza were reluctant to identify as exclusive non-partiers. D’Souza’s habits have changed over the years — because he enjoys dancing, he attended more parties sophomore and junior years, but has cut back again this year in order to complete medical school applications. Similarly, Lisa Ann Tang ’17 goes out to parties roughly every other weekend, but often prefers to spend time with friends by simply talking or watching movies in their suites.
Harvey Xia ’16, who usually chooses to stay in on weekends, said he tries to avoid characterizing the social habits of Yalies through “false dichotomies.”
“It’s not about drinking or not drinking, or partying or not partying,” he said. “It’s about college students trying to find their way through a culture that has predominant values [centered around partying].”
Miller, D’Souza and Tang all said they felt no pressure to party. In fact, all but three of the eight students interviewed said they felt no pressure to partake in any specific social culture at Yale, although they all acknowledged that they have friends who feel differently. D’Souza guessed that the pressure may stem from the greater visibility of those who go out — students who prefer alternate forms of weekend entertainment were inherently a bit more difficult to find.
While partying is a social medium that most students seem to enjoy, Stanford noted, there are other options if you look for them. When he is not spending weekends with his suitemates, he takes part in the community of Yale Students for Christ, despite not sharing the religious beliefs around which the group is built.
“A critical mass of people enjoy [partying], so it can monopolize social interaction,” he said. “But, there is enough space left over for a non-partying culture [to exist] and to still have fruitful [relationships].”
* * *
As I was packing my bag and preparing my belongings for a Thanksgiving break at home, I heard voices enter the suite. Suddenly, my door slammed open.
“Wesley!” my suitemates shouted. They had returned early from a Harvard-Yale party at the Afro-American Cultural Center. Together, we snuck into the buttery for soft drinks and quesadillas. After returning to our common room, we put on “The Call,” a horrifying film starring Halle Berry.
Only 24 hours had passed since I left the News-Crimson mixer in a daze. Tonight, there was no confusion about how to feel.
I forgot about the packing. After all, I was already home.
Correction: Dec. 7
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the St. Thomas More Chapel student center as the “Goldman Center.” In fact, it is the “Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Center.”