The University’s Pajama Jam, a night of dancing for a pajama-clad incoming class of 2020, took place on Sept. 2 in Beckham Hall. The night featured hit songs from a live DJ, who played for a room full of first years in pajamas that ranged from T-shirts and basketball shorts to animal onesies.
This event is a first for the University. It takes the place of the former orientation staple Bend it at Beckham, popularly referred to as Gender Bender, a dance that many University upperclassmen participated in during their own orientations. The substitution of Gender Bender for Pajama Jam was catalyzed by members of the University community who felt that it excluded and exploited the experiences of gender non-conforming students.
“I believe that some trans* students had expressed concern,” Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley said. “On one hand, the event had a long history during orientation and encouraged students to move beyond their typical gender expression, but we recognized immediately that there were problems with the appropriation and performance of trans* identity.”
According to the class of 2019 orientation packet, during Bend it at Beckham students were encouraged to “exchange clothing with hallmates and challenge what gender is or should be at a dance party.” Students were asked to pencil on moustaches, don wigs, and “bend the gender binary as much or as little as you desire.”
“On my hall, nearly everyone traded clothes with individuals who identified as a different gender and I recall asking a few female students to do my makeup,” Fred Ayres ’17 wrote in an email to The Argus. “Altogether, it was a great way to get to know others on my hall and also be able to explore different parts of my identity.”
However, the event theme was scrapped after 2015 and replaced with this year’s pajama-themed dance. The reason for the change revolves around the consensus that a Gender Bender dance took advantage of the experiences of transgender individuals.
“Dressing up as a different gender for a night appeared to almost diminish the lived experiences of trans* individuals, for whom their gender expression is neither transient nor a performance,” Ayres said. “Moreover, trans* students may have felt excluded from the event, left in a bind in terms of how to dress for the gender bender.”
One first-year who reflected on the change believed the event update was much needed.
“I personally wouldn’t have [preferred Bend it at Beckham to Pajama Jam],” Katherine Vasquez ’20 said. “Especially at a school like this one, there are so many people who identify as genderqueer, and I think that it would leave a lot of people confused as to how they should dress, versus with pajamas, it doesn’t really matter what gender you identify as. You wear something comfortable.”
In order to participate in this year’s Pajama Jam, first years were asked to present their IDs upon entering Beckham Hall, and anyone who did not carry a Class of 2020 ID badge was turned away. Students placed their items in an alcove beneath the stairs and subsequently padded to the hall where the dance took place. The room was dimly lit and large, with music blasting from speakers framing a platform upon which the DJ controlled the sound. Between 10 and 11 p.m., the number of first years gradually expanded until most of the hall was full.
“An hour or two in, it really got lit,” Chloe Thorburn ’20 confirmed.
Students danced individually, in pairs, and in larger groups, and throughout the night students would form circles that individuals would enter to show off impressive moves. The night’s music included old party classics such as “Fergalicious” and “Watch me (Whip/Nae Nae),” as well as other songs that populated many of the students’ youth.
“It was a bunch of music that either I’d never heard before or hadn’t listened to in years, and it was all light fun,” Vasquez said.
To the students, the night would have felt like any other dance were it not for the twist: The dress code was pajamas. Students were asked to sport their “coolest PJs to dance the night away,” according to the University’s Guidebook App description of the event, and nearly everyone complied. Students appeared in a wide range of costumes, with first years wearing anything from seashell pajama shorts to fuzzy Superman sweatpants to nightgowns to even boxers.
“I really liked that it was pajama-themed,” Vasquez said. “It was a good opportunity to be comfortable and move around. I think wearing your pajamas gave everyone an opportunity to show their personality a little bit. Some people showed up in boxers and some people showed up in onesies.”
First years who attended the dance said that they appreciated the casualness of the event.
“I feel like at most parties you’re pressured to wear something really impressive or flashy, and it was really cool to not have to put that effort into choosing an outfit,” Kriti Nayaranan ’20 said.
As a whole, this year’s dance at Beckham Hall was generally thought to be both uncontroversial and a good time by Wesleyan’s incoming first-year class.
“Everyone was killing it out on the dance floor and looked great in their pajamas,” Meg Cummings ’20 said.“It was a great time.”
Even upperclassmen who enjoyed Gender Bender looked back and noted that the event was even more inclusive.
“The orientation dance is a great time for frosh to meet each others and have fun as long as the space is safe and welcoming for all,” John Henry Vansant ’18 said. “I had a blast my freshman year and I am glad that they are improving the event so that more people enjoy it as well.”