Middlebury’s social scene is still in the midst of an identity crisis. It largely began in the 90s when the College got rid of frats and sororities, which provided the foundation of Midd’s social life for, like, a hundred plus years. With the end of Greek life came a make over of the school’s identity from a typical white, privileged New England college (epitomized by fraternities and sororities) to a prestigious, diverse, global-minded, environmentally-conscientious, etc. institution, and brand really.
While most would probably agree this new identity has been a positive change overall, Midd still hasn’t figured out what it means for its social scene. This confusion has manifested itself in tensions over the role of alcohol consumption, social institutions like social houses and superblocks, strict Vermont State alcohol laws and the administration (old chapel, res life, pub safe, etc.) in defining our social scene. Student frustration over the administration micromanaging nightlife and shutting down social houses, a perceived lack of trust between students and pub safe, alcohol task forces, convocation speeches littered with warnings about knowing your limits have all emanated from this.
We also still have an alarming lack of student owned-space and student-created traditions (what gives, this school is over two hundred year old?!), which is partly the case, it could be argued, because we still haven’t filled the void of the greek system on campus and figured out what our new social scene/identity is exactly. But within this frustration, there also exists (we think) a kind of excitement at the opportunity for students right now to organize and reclaim social events, traditions, and spaces that will define the next iteration of Midd’s social scene .
A lot of this frustration and excitement was present tonight among the dozens of students who showed up to Crossroads this evening for a discussion called “What is the future of social life at Middlebury?” led by Student Co-Chair of Community Council Barrett Smith ’13 and co-sponsored by Community Council, SGA and the Dean of the College Office.
Among the those present were movers and shakers from social houses, MCAB, SGA (including two presidential candidates) as well as a few administrators (I saw Katy Smith-Abbott, Doug Adams and Shirley Collado). The discussion was directed around the following questions: Should hard alcohol be banned on campus? What is the future of social houses? How will this affect campus social life? Should the Atwater Suites be regularly patrolled by Public Safety? Should more parties be registered and what would promote that?
middbeat kept some unofficial minutes from the group discussion. Here are some of the themes that emerged:
Many argued the merits of the keg as a great way to provide regulated alcohol to lots of people and create community at the same time. Many wished it was easier for groups to acquire kegs and keep them for longer. Currently, kegs are confiscated after four hours encouraging people to empty its contents quicker to get their money’s worth, and or just to buy thirty racks instead, which promote faster, more exclusive drinking.
HIGH COSTS/BUREAUCRACY OF REGISTERING PARTIES:
Leaders of social houses voiced frustration at how difficult and expensive it is to register parties, even though both students and the admin generally agree they are the safest, most inclusive spaces for drinking. The stat was thrown around that a decade or two ago midd had around 700 registered parties a year, while now its down to 70 a year (we aren’t sure how accurate this stat is). Students argued it’s because there is no incentive to go through all the hoops to register parties, having the responsibility of working the door and dealing with public safety coming in four times per event. Furthermore, if you aren’t a social house, it is unlikely you have enough money to throw a registered party (buying alcohol and the required poundage of non-alcoholic drinks/food required).
It was pointed out there are some incentives to registering parties. Apparently if you throw a “perfect party” (0-2 citations) the Grille will cater your next event for free.
Others brought up the idea of having more pub safe regulation/oversight in dorms, where dangerous drinking typically occurs, and less in social houses and large registered parties where alcohol consumption is generally safer and more open.
BACKLASH OVER PERCEIVED CRACKDOWN ON SOCIAL SCENE:
Some students brought up that things like shutting down Delta, making it so difficult to register parties, giving citations despite responsible drinking and denying super block applications that are likely to throw parties are isolating a lot of the student body from the administration and pub safe and pushing them to adopt an attitude of rebellion (how many times have you heard someone say “this place is a prison”?). Fears were voiced of the social scene moving off campus, and the repercussions of that like drunk driving, exclusivity, etc.
Darties (like St. Palmer’s Day and the Route 30 Rowdy Roast this spring) were brought up as positive examples of a trusting environment between students and pub safe around alcohol consumption. Pub safe did not interfere with these events even though there was likely underage drinking and open containers outside. The question was posed: can that trust hold up during the night as well?
This point was countered by the fact that pub safe generally shows up at nigthtime events not because of alcohol but because of noise complaints, capacity violations, and fire procedures which are not an issue for events held outside during the day.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL HOUSES IN THE SOCIAL SCENE
Many voiced the opinion that social houses are one of the most positive aspects of our social life. They promote community and ownership of space that lends itself to a more healthy social scene. People expressed worries over the pending decision to shut down Delta and believed instead there should be more social houses being started representing the interests and values of more students on campus. Smith encouraged students to organize to create more social houses, for example in Palmer, which was social house at one point.
Many were also were frustrated by the College’s underplaying the positive role of social houses to the public. They believe there is a perceived stigma around joining social houses when students first arrive on campus and that instead social houses should be promoted and encouraged as healthy places to cultivate community and make friends. For example, some tour guides said they are encouraged not to talk about social houses or mention alcohol at all when asked about the social scene on tours.
Throwing and publicizing more social house events that weren’t weekend parties was brought up, to highlight the role of social houses to cultivate community among members outside of throwing parties at night.
Also someone brought up encouraging creativity and the creation of more traditions by social houses and superblocks, like Purple Jesus at the Mill and the Marriage Party at KDR to help foster a more interesting, fun social scene.
SPACES FOR SOCIAL LIFE TO OCCUR
Frustrations were expressed over the lack of neutral/student-owned space for throwing parties and events. Many agreed McCullough did not feel owned by the students, especially with its proximity to administrative offices, the box office, the mail center, etc.
Others brought up that by having MCAB or Commons Council associated with an event, it makes it lame and takes away any social capital it might have. Other events, like concerts in Brooker or Meeker are perceived as being organic and spontaneous, but actually require a lot of work too.
Someone had the idea of decentralizing MCAB funds and spreading them around to student groups so they had the ability to throw more organic, creative events. MCAB members countered that there is a misconception that they monopolize the funds for social programming on campus. They emphasized that they help fund events organized by dozens of groups on campus. While social houses and superblocks rarely ask them for financial support, they would be more than willing to help them fund events. Social houses also brought up that MCAB should think of their spaces as places to throw their events, as well.
In general, it was felt that students needed to do a better job claiming spaces by putting up their own art, furiture, etc. so they felt responsiblity over it and not like it was just the instituion’s. For example, Palmer, which is super barren and smells like beer all the time. This is complicated by strict fire regulations and the use of buildings for language school during the summer.
These were the main points brought up. Please continue the discussion in the comments.