Wesleyan’s wood-frame houses are in bad shape. The dialogue sparked by Fran Koerting’s email last Monday revealed that not only are floors collapsing, roofs have caved in and walls have caught on fire. Despite that, wood-frame residents continue to host large, raucous parties that are stretching these homes to their limit. The Wesleyan administration is nervous—they have a liability issue. And as students, we’re nervous—we have a safety issue.
When the floor of one of these old houses snaps under hundreds of drunk, bouncing feet, Wesleyan students deserve some of the blame. As someone who has (yes, really) gone to wood-frame parties, I can confirm that they are often dangerously rowdy and overcrowded. Hosts do, in fact, disregard and surpass occupancy limits. Wesleyan students: you don’t have a right to ignore the rules and expect the school to shoulder full responsibility for the consequences. I think that point was emphasized adequately by the staff at our town hall meeting this Monday.
However, party culture has existed at Wesleyan for a long time. It’s a known element to the administration. I strongly agree with the decision to shutter most fraternities and sororities several years ago, but it doesn’t seem like the administration thought enough about where student life would go if not the frat houses. Well, it migrated to the wood frames, which despite being some of the campus’s least suitable structures for high-capacity parties, were a remaining place to escape Wesleyan’s oversight.
I don’t know how frequently wood-frame parties are shut down, but many students will attest that it’s increasingly common. If so, that’s another mistake on the behalf of the administration. Shutting down half the wood-frame parties just encourages people to go to the other half. It actually might actually worsen overcrowding. It certainly makes it harder for wood-frame residents to control party capacity.
Wesleyan could have replaced these houses decades ago and nobody would be in danger. They could have accounted for the possibility that shutting down Greek life and program house parties wouldn’t change underlying student behavior. But they didn’t do that, and now the floors are collapsing.
This is more than a debate about wealthy, entitled Wesleyan brats. I’m not hosting any parties and I’m still worried that something dangerous will arise in my house. Can the administration plainly tell me I don’t need to worry? Am I entitled because I expect them to?
Most of our conversation in the town hall meeting was about the students’ share of the blame, but as I hope I’ve made clear, we should discuss the administration’s handling of this as well. If I had to guess, this is what incited student discontent in the first place.
The administration has tried to make students understand why we have to change our behavior, and why our failure to do so is, according to them, the problem. They were “so disappointed” in us and threatened inflated punishment for those who ignored the rules. That was unfair.
Of course, assigning blame isn’t particularly useful toward preventing more floors from collapsing. The administration can take some steps; showing more leniency toward wood-frame parties and other parties alike might disperse students across more locations. They could also try targeting the houses that are especially prone to structural damage. In the long run, Wesleyan could replace some of the wood frames with buildings that can handle normal stress and leave the remaining houses for students who pledge not to host large gatherings, much like how we choose between quiet and loud streets already.
But these actions won’t necessarily keep the student body safe this year. Regardless of who bears greater responsibility for structural problems in our housing, the students will have to adjust to the fact that our floorboards can’t handle all of Wesleyan’s night life. We’re going to have to work with the administration to more stringently manage capacity and keep ourselves, our housemates and our fellow students safe.
But let’s be clear, this is the result of several Wesleyan policies as much as student recklessness.
Asa Mazor-Freedman is a member of the class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.