On Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31, I witnessed something that I had never seen before at Wesleyan. I saw a group of easily 40 people standing in the middle of the street on Fountain Ave. What were these people doing in the middle of a street, being dangers to themselves and others by standing in a place where cars travel? They were socializing, just like they would any other Saturday night. But why weren’t they inside a house, or in the shared backyard of Pine and Fountain? They were in the street because they had nowhere else to go.
There used to be three large student-run social spaces on High Street. For various reasons, all three are now closed for at least the next year. As a result, there are now very few large student-run social spaces left on campus. This means that for late-night weekend socialization, people are now crowded on two streets that are not even a full block away from each other.
However, there can only be one registered event per street/block according to the University student handbook. Additionally, according to the student handbook, PSafe has the discretion to “shut down social events that are deemed to be a nuisance and/or after receiving two complaints about noise or disruptive behavior.” So in theory, there could be one registered event on Fountain, and one on Pine. And even if an event is registered, it will quickly be shut down by PSafe as soon as it becomes anything close to loud.
There is now a greater demand for parties than there is supply. As a result, the quality of parties is compromised because they are too crowded. This will result in increasingly fewer people going to parties, and equilibrium capacity will eventually be reached. Or at least equilibrium capacity for registered events.
Even as people decide to not go to crowded registered events on Pine and Fountain, people will go to unregistered events elsewhere. Parties could become confined to large dorm rooms. These rooms can hold far fewer people, but will still become loud, and attract the attention of an overzealous RA that will shut it down and issue citations faster than PSafe ever could. Parties could also spread to other houses that haven’t registered their events. As I stated in my previous opinion piece about the drinking age, people will act more recklessly and dangerously if they are hiding from authority. In this scenario, people will attend unregistered events, party like there’s no tomorrow, exit the building as soon as PSafe arrives, and then quickly reconvene at another house down the street. Or, as I saw on Halloween, people will reconvene in the middle of the road.
Clearly, there are safety issues associated with the loss of large student-run social spaces, and I have a few suggestions for how to make weekend socializing safer. For starters, the University could revise the handbook to allow more registered social events per street. Although the limit is technically one per street, there are usually at least two per street. For example on Halloween, there was one event at one end of Fountain and one event at the other end. But, if the official limit were relaxed or enforced less rigorously, people wouldn’t be crowded into wood-frame houses that are beyond capacity. Houses beyond capacity are not fun to be in because they are too crowded. Furthermore, over-capacity venues can also cause fire safety hazards.
Another solution would be for students to hold events in more areas of campus. There have been a few parties on Lawn and Home so far this year. If the residents on these streets decided to fill the gap and regularly hold registered events on Friday and Saturday nights, students wouldn’t be crowded in the one or two parties on Fountain and Pine, thus alleviating the stress on the few registered events for the night.
Students could also go to Vines on Church on nights other than Wednesday. It’s a bar. Students wouldn’t have to worry about finding alcohol at a party when Vines exists specifically as a space to drink, eat, and socialize. Vines is really close to campus—it’s across from High Rise—and is unlikely to get shut down due to noise complaints because it is a privately owned business.
The University could also give students control of large University-owned social spaces while having little to no oversight of the events held there and allowing for the presence and or distribution of alcohol. Beckham Hall could be a great place for social events. However, because it is University-owned and operated, there will never be alcohol served to people who are under 21. Wood frame houses don’t have this issue because the “21 +” signs on the doors cover legal liability, but people under the age of 21 go to those parties, and people under the age of 21 drink at those parties. If Beckham Hall operated more like a wood frame house, then maybe it would become a more popular venue for parties.
Finally, the University could reopen the three large vacant houses on High Street. Do I think the fraternities themselves need to return? Not necessarily. Should their houses be reopened and once again allowed to host registered social events? Maybe. This is one solution to the safety issues associated with their closure. However, this is a really messy situation given the issues of property ownership and current sanctions, so it’s unlikely that the houses will reopen in a non-fraternity capacity.
The school closed the three residential fraternities and there are now safety issues resulting from overcrowded existing facilities. I have given five different potential solutions to these problems. Of these five, I believe only one is likely to be implemented. Given the long and protracted nature of changing the student handbook, I believe parties will expand to Lawn and Home instead of increasing in number on Pine and Fountain. And if the fraternities stay closed forever, Vines on Church could eventually become a regular social place for Wesleyan students as an alternative to Eclectic, wood-frame houses, and other social venues. I wouldn’t mind that happening at all. Vines exists specifically to serve the general Wesleyan area of Middletown. Use it. Bust out your fake IDs (or your real ones), and enjoy beer, food, and socialization with your peers at an off-campus venue that is barely even off campus.
McCarthy is a member of the Class of 2018.