In Defense of Partying: a Freshman Perspective
Ask just about any junior or senior, and they'll tell you that something feels different this semester. The social scene has changed. CMC parties are no longer what they once were; attendance at TNC is declining, the rules regarding parties are stricter, and, to many, the social scene simply seems less enjoyable. So what happened? There are two leading theories. The college administration argues that the student body has changed and that the type of student that attends CMC just doesn’t like to party as much as students did three or four years ago. The second theory is much more widely accepted by the student body. In this view, the administration’s new, stricter enforcement of rules on partying and drinking has stifled the social scene of the college.
There is probably some truth to both sides of the argument. It is absolutely possible that, due to the admissions policies pursued by the college, every succeeding class has had fewer and fewer students who like to party. But I do not believe that fully explains the issue. Just from my personal experience, it seems that very few students want to see a quieter social scene, and I’m certainly not the stereotypical North Quad party-goer. I know many people who choose not to drink but still go to parties, and even those who don’t like to party don’t seem eager to force their preferences on others.
Dean Spellman and others who agree with her argue that the people who want a quieter social scene are actually a “silent majority.” If that’s the case, then I call on the silent majority to speak up. Make your voices heard. Come to Senate and say, “I think these changes are for the best.” There are plenty of ways to get involved in the campus discussion here at Claremont McKenna—it’s one of the things I love about this school—but so far the discussion has been pretty one-sided.
Even if it is one part of the equation, the changing-culture theory can’t explain it all. The only thing that can really explain how the social scene has been stifled is the set of restrictive party policies the college administration has put into place. And these changes are policy changes. Telling Campus Security to enforce certain regulations is a policy decision. The rule on the books may not have changed, but it's now CMC's policy to ensure that TNC is CMC-only whereas before it was their policy not to.
Parties now have to be fenced off. TNC is CMC-only. You can’t bring drinks in or out of parties. These rules make parties less accessible, less fun, and more about drinking lots of alcohol. Upperclassmen have told me that TNC used to be a casual event where people could hang out with their friends, listen to music, and dance. Students would congregate outside around where the music was. No longer. Thanks to the fencing, you’re now either in or out of the party. If no one is already inside the fences, very few people will want to go in. This creates a snowball effect where people don’t come to TNC but drink in their dorms or where they go to TNC but feel like they have to get drunk for it to be fun.
And I’m not sure that’s what the administration wants. After all, it’s better to have students outside socializing and dancing than going back to their rooms to drink more because no one is at TNC.
Dean Spellman says that Claremont McKenna's social scene is too alcohol-focused. She says the college's social life should revolve around parties rather than drinking. I agree. But the administration's actions have largely caused the shift. Fencing in parties, prohibiting students from bringing drinks in or out, and requiring a CMC ID diminish the party. And when the party is no good, students drink more beforehand to compensate. Discouraging alcohol use means encouraging good parties where students don't feel like they need to drink excessively to have fun.
They say that Claremont McKenna shouldn’t be a “party school” and that Thursday nights shouldn’t be party nights. But Claremont McKenna isn’t a party school. It is—and should remain—a top-tier liberal arts school where students like to, in Dean Spellman’s words, “throw some kick-ass parties.” That designation fills an important niche in the vast array of top-tier liberal arts colleges. To try to change Claremont McKenna’s culture from the top down is to try to make it into something it is not: every other liberal arts college out there.
One last concern I’ve heard over and over again is that the amount of partying at Claremont McKenna pushes away applicants who don’t like the party scene. However, those who take this view fail to consider how many qualified, smart high school students choose Claremont McKenna over other schools precisely because of its culture. It seems that Claremont McKenna has had success attracting plenty of applicants despite—or because of—the social freedom that the school has historically extended to its students. Our 12.4% acceptance rate is a strong testament to that.
I’m not one to just complain without offering solutions, so what can we do about it?
The administration should step back and allow for student self-governance. Letting the student body take the lead in its own affairs, at least regarding the school’s social life, would make sense at Claremont McKenna because of our focus on developing the “leaders of tomorrow.”
However, that’s probably not going to happen. So ASCMC needs to step up. As our student government, ASCMC is responsible for effectively represent us on these issues. The new Senate Social Scene Task Force is a start, but ASCMC should do more than gather data and convey our feelings to the administration. It should actively promote the kind of campus culture that we want to have. Civil disobedience may not come easily to ASCMC, but it may very well be necessary to show the administration where the student body draws the line.
Changes regarding party policy won’t take place overnight. So my message to my fellow students is that you need to make your voices heard. If you think party restrictions have gone too far, say so. Email Dean Spellman or tell her so in person. Speak up at Senate and let ASCMC know you expect them to represent you. And the same goes for those who disagree with me. Submit an article to the Forum about how I’m entirely wrong. We can’t have any real debate about party culture without all points of view represented, and without that debate, the only voices that matter are those of the administration.