Lately my head has been abuzz with frustrations about our campus’s increasingly constrained nightlife. As Jacob Seltzer ’17 recently chronicled on Wesleying, Public Safety’s enforcement of newly decreased capacity limits in senior village and program houses, combined with a diminished fraternity presence, has translated into an unmistakably lackluster weekend social scene. So when I saw “Song For A Future Generation” at the ’92 Theater this past weekend, one particular line from the show nearly made me leap out of my seat. One of the Marika clones says to Error (contextual understanding not necessary), “I connect with a lot of people. I love people! That’s why I throw parties: to create a space where people can connect.”
This semester, we’ve lost spaces and opportunities to connect with one another. Wesleyan’s recent lack of parties and large events has created a tangible feeling of social melancholy and has deteriorated our sense of campus community.
Last year, when friends would approach me on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday afternoon with the perennial “What are you getting up to tonight?” I’d excitedly rattle off concerts, fraternity events, and senior house soirees to enthrall those from all segments of our then-robust social scene. This year, however, we have found ourselves decidedly deprived of social gatherings with which to fill our weekend nights. We spend our weekdays (and weekend days) fanatically juggling our academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and jobs and then are left with nothing to do on the weekends, a time when we look to unwind from the stress and anxiety of our week by catching up with friends and connecting with one another.
I find myself met with weekly disappointment at 4:00 p.m. on Fridays when my classes end, and I don’t have a concert or a gathering at a senior friend’s house lined up to cap off my week. And many people I’ve spoken with share these sentiments of social lethargy.
“I feel like I just want to go on vacation every weekend,” said Lizzie Shackney ’17.
Jordan Alexander ’17 has been doing just that: “Last year I didn’t regularly leave campus. This year, I’ve been spending many weekends in New York, since there’s not as much to do here.”
The lull in campus morale is directly correlated with our nonexistent party scene, which has deteriorated our sense of campus community. Wesleyan is a small university, but this year it feels larger than ever before. What afforded us that small-school feeling was the ability to maintain peripheral friendships with such a large portion of campus, an ability we’ve lost this semester. Peripheral friends are people you don’t see during the course of your week—you don’t have class with them, you don’t live near them, and they’re not in your immediate social circles—but nevertheless you enjoy their friendship. Every time you bump into them around campus, you connect with them and have meaningful conversations. The more frequently we bump into our peripheral friends, the more we foster a sense of belonging and create a campus community where we care for one another. Without constants such as weekly forays to Fountain or Psi U Thursdays, our peripheral friendships are falling by the wayside.
A quick survey of my Facebook friends revealed dozens of people I consider real-life friends who have dropped out of my life because I don’t see them amid the franticness of my week. I can no longer count on reconnecting with them on weekends. Sprawling senior parties and other large events were a chance to strike up a conversation with that person in your bio class you don’t generally see, an opportunity to see your friends from other class years, and, perhaps most importantly, a place to meet new people in our community.
“The head nod or wave you exchange with someone you shared a moment with on Fountain isn’t really a thing anymore, and losing those casual encounters with people outside our close friend groups is starting to fracture our community,” lamented Sam Beck ’17.
By charging Public Safety with enforcing unreasonably low capacity limits on senior and program houses, violations of which can result in judicial consequences for the occupants or house managers, the University is inhibiting our ability to congregate as a community.
“Tightened enforcement means there will be fewer parties, but since the same number of people are going out that means whatever few events are happening will likely be over capacity and hard to control,” said Dylan Nelson ’15. “Now that capacities are so low, seniors and house managers are afraid of getting worked over if they get written up, since there seems to be a sort of crapshoot of disciplinary sanctions.”
Frances Koerting, Director of Residential Life, has said, “Hopefully [the lower capacities are] leading to students just having their friends over.” This position is detrimental to the social health of our campus, as a shift towards exclusively small gatherings will fragment our student body into small groups with significantly less socialization across different segments of the campus population.
A number of critical policy changes must occur in order to reinvigorate our weekend nightlife. The first is restoring senior house and program house capacities to levels more conducive to larger social events. Additionally, Public Safety officers should be given license to judge individual situations less by quantitative capacity regulations and more by qualitative regard for our safety as they have in the past (e.g., a registered event that is slightly over-capacity but demonstrably under-control should not be shut down).
Another policy that must be remedied is the deadline for event registration, which for events not requiring equipment is 1:00 pm the Wednesday prior to the weekend on which they occur. This means that if seniors decide on Thursday to throw a house party on Friday, they cannot register the event and must choose between a potential sanction for an unregistered gathering or simply not throwing the party. It is incumbent upon us, the student body, to pressure the administration to change policy regarding capacity and registration if we are to facilitate a campus environment where seniors and house managers can feasibly have parties and events with less hassle and fear of judicial repercussion.
Like many of my fellow students, I was drawn to Wesleyan not only for its academics, but also for its culture and community. In order to thrive, our campus community needs spaces outside the classroom—a crowded Fountain backyard, a mosh pit at Art House, a grab-a-date formal at a senior house—where we can connect with one another away from the pressures of the week. By sharing experiences at parties and social gatherings, we not only strengthen our core relationships, but also maintain peripheral friendships and meet new people. It is imperative that we not be complacent with recent changes in campus dynamics but rather mobilize towards bringing about administrative policy changes so that we may continue to share in the unique weekend experiences that make Wesleyan Wesleyan.
Fineberg is a member of the class of 2017.