Valerie Navarrete

On Saturday, August 29, the rattle of air conditioning units and chirping of crickets filled the balmy air of streets surrounding campus. People dined peacefully in the alleyway between Olea and the Sigma Nu fraternity house, undisturbed. The only out-the-door line was nearly a block away from “frat row” at Milkcraft Ice Cream. The loudest music emanated from a car, whose stereo quickly faded away as it passed the fraternities, giving way to the quiet hum of the city. 

In any other year, these are the last things one would have observed in the High Street vicinity after 10 p.m. Without looking at a calendar, few would know that this was the last Saturday before classes started: the final weekend of summer and the culmination of another Camp Yale.  

Officially known as First-Year Orientation and affectionately dubbed Camp Yale, the final days of summer are usually a blur. First years are inundated by meetings with First-Year Counselors (FroCos), CCE workshops, slightly uncomfortable icebreakers and move-in day. Returning students relish in the opportunity to reconvene with friends whom they have not seen since finals week the previous semester.

But for many students, the highlight of Camp Yale? Parties.

With Salovey’s latest announcement, gone are the days of first years bombarding High Street in search of a long-awaited escape from parental supervision.

In early July, the publication of Yale’s Community Compact set guidelines for student behavior related to COVID-19 safety: masks, social distancing and punishment for infractions. Nearly two months later, the Yale University president, provost and deans established clear boundaries for in-person social gatherings this fall in a widely circulated email applicable to all students regardless of enrollment status.

“No student in the New Haven area, whether enrolled, withdrawn, or on a leave of absence, may host, invite others to, or attend a party with more than 10 people, whether on or off campus,” Salovey wrote. Salovey wasted no time in dealing with the elephant in the room: “Yale is prepared to enforce this policy with disciplinary action if necessary.”

Liam Geenen ’22, a High Street resident, echoed the general sentiment of Salovey’s email: that students should be extremely conscientious of the fact that imprudent decisions will negatively affect others.

“We’re guests in this community and it’s poor etiquette [to party]. It’s like coming into someone’s home and being irresponsible without their consent — you would never do that.”

The email went on to remind students that masks and appropriate social distancing would still be a necessity at any social gatherings. “In some spaces, even 10 people will be too many,” Salovey continues, advising students to use discretion in places that are inadequate to host the maximum allowable guests.

For Shirley Shi ’22, who lives near the High Street fraternities, the establishment of a maximum of 10 people has proven beneficial in her experience. In her circle, “there hasn’t been too much conflict” this past week in terms of setting boundaries for social gatherings because Salovey’s 10 person limit took ambiguity out of the equation. 

“Having a set guideline makes it more concrete, whereas it’s harder with a range,” Shi shares. 

Despite the clarity of the 10 person maximum, Shi comments that planning dinner parties and other gatherings can be tricky. “It’s really easy to break by accident by having one extra person,” she admits.

“I haven’t gotten a sense that people have been trying to bend the rules,” Geenen shares. “People seem to be accepting that it has to be the status quo these days,” he says, observing the mellow scene on High Street.

Barring COVID, there would have been hundreds of people outside these fraternities, pushing their way up the steps and entering windows as an alternate route of admission. This year, the porches of LEO, SigNu and SigEp are empty. Only a faint echo of light music and a ping pong ball hitting the table in the LEO backyard could be heard. A mere five people were evenly spread out in the backyard playing beer pong and in an unusual turn of events for Camp Yale, the only audible “event” was in line with Salovey’s COVID-19 party guidelines. It was reassuring that even social spaces notorious for extremely overcrowded parties managed to put traditional festivities on the back burner in favor of the Yale community’s safety.

Incoming first-year Matthew Merritt ’24 gave insight into his residential college “Camp Yale” experience. Like all other first years, Merritt was quarantined for the duration of move-in week.

“I was aware that, in the past, partying the week before school and large hangouts were quite common,” Merritt said. “I looked forward to the week before classes began because I was excited about meeting new friends and classmates. Of course, the impending pandemic interfered with my hopes of quickly developing a strong group of friends.”

Merritt’s disappointment that “Camp Yale will not be a reality this year” is coupled with the acknowledgement of “the strong community and support network in TD willing to help [him] at any moment.”

First years missed out on what is often considered a fundamental part of a proper introduction to Yale for those who choose to go out in any capacity — whether it be storming High Street, chilling at suite parties or bonding with fellow residential college friends at FroCo duty.

Likewise, upperclassmen couldn’t help but feel as though Camp Yale was virtually nonexistent this year, as a key element — parties — was missing.

“What do you mean, ‘Camp Yale this year’?” Sam Tobin ’22 inquired skeptically. “What does that even mean?” 

“There just literally isn’t a Camp Yale,” Adam Wolnikowski ’21 shrugged. Without the usual party scene, Camp Yale is just not Camp Yale for many returning students. 

So far, a small number of students have tested positive for COVID-19, placing Yale’s COVID-19 alert level at low to moderate risk. As of Aug. 31, nine cases have been confirmed from testing data up through Aug. 29.

“We have to do what’s important for the community because we’re all in this together,” Geenen reflects.

“All I’m hoping is that we don’t become like the University of Alabama,” Shi concludes.

Here’s to hoping the rest of the student body feels the same way. Classes started this past Monday and only time will tell if compliance with mandated health and safety regulations for partying will be maintained as the modified social scene starts to pan out.

Sydney Zoehrer | sydney.zoehrer@yale.edu