Halloween success affirms need for alternate event spaces

This past Halloweekend, the VC Traditions Committee broke from its practice of recent years, moving the annual Saturday night Halloween party from the Villard Room to a large heated tent on Noyes Circle. Traditions Committee Co-Chair Ashley Hoyle ’18 explained the decision in an all-campus email: “The increase in capacity will dissipate crowding issues, as the second floor of the college center created a large issue with crowd control and with monitoring entries & exits. The tent will also be a much more open and bright place to hold the party which will hopefully lead to more accountability and more effective bystander intervention in interpersonal situations,” (Email, “boo!” 10.1.2017).

Although the event did have some logistical limitations, such as the party ending at midnight instead of at 2 a.m., as in previous years, it is fair to say that the night was an overall success. Although in previous years, Halloween has been a weekend notorious for its unsafe partying behavior, according to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Captain Lauren Middleton ’18, calls were down over 50 percent since last year, from 15 in 2016 to only seven this year. The statistics suggest that the change in venue was effective at accomplishing the VC Traditions Committee’s goals of making the Halloween party safer.

However, the success of this all-campus event seems to be an anomaly on the Vassar campus. Given the current party rules implemented last fall, which have since been the subject of debate and discussion among the campus community (see The Miscellany News, “New college party regulations catch students by surprise,” 10.12.2016), students have limited options for large social gatherings on the weekends. Fire regulation codes have limited Town House (TH) occupancy to 25 people or fewer, making these spaces—historically the site of a majority of campus parties—near impossible locations for larger-scale gatherings. Drinking rules and noise complaint policies mean that parties in the THs are often shut down early in the night. Residents of THs, as well as the Terrace Apartments (TAs) and South Commons (SoCos), are now hesitant to host events, in fear of how quickly the administration could enforce disciplinary action and write-ups. In light of the College’s stringent party rules, we believe that Vassar should make more of an effort to create additional options for large-scale events on the weekends.

Due to the lack of such spaces, moreover, many students socialize in more private spots like the dorms, which are unregulated spaces that can encourage overdrinking. In addition, many students have given up on Vassar parties entirely, electing instead to venture to bars near Marist and take risks with fake IDs.

Much of this behavior can be attributed to the disappointing lack of available and acceptable spaces for parties on campus. We understand that the administration must follow certain security policies that students find unfavorable. It is nonetheless encouraging that the Vassar Student Association (VSA) and administrators such as President Elizabeth Bradley and Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo are actively aware of these issues and pursuing alternatives, as in their respective Senate forums on Sept. 10 and Nov. 5.

A logical resolution to this dilemma, then, is to establish campus-sponsored party spaces. If students are no longer allowed to create these spaces themselves, it is up to the school and various student organizations to fill the void. Many colleges and universities have bars or other designated party spaces on campus, but Vassar does not. Right now, the only place that somewhat resembles this type of space is the Mug. Back in its heyday, the Mug was a fully-functioning bar where both professors and students—of legal age, of course—could interact and socialize (The Alumnae/i Quarterly, “Matthew’s Mug: The Groove is in the Heart.” Spring 2002). It was a lively, popular space from its opening in the 1975 until until 2010, when it lost its status at a bar and become a venue primarily for org-sponsored events, music and student theater.

Frankly, nowadays the Mug is nowhere close to being the center for campus nightlife that it once was. Although Mug nights provide an outlet for students wanting to dance, they are few and far between. The space is now predominantly used to showcase student theater and music, which in itself is a positive feature of campus life, except that it precludes other programming from happening in the Mug. Additionally, the location is aged and dangerous. The staircase entering the Mug is treacherous, lines are long and the dance floor is overheated, cramped and dark.

In a discussion following the Oct. 22 VSA forum with President Bradley, several students reported that a student passed out at Queer Mug Night was left unattended for a substantial amount of time (The Miscellany News, “VSA Senate Forum with President Bradley,” 10.27.2017). Any space where these types of life or death situations can go unnoticed are not places to be hosting parties. While there are some students who are regular patrons of the Mug, many avoid the space entirely, largely due to these damaging logistical issues.

We would like to see campus-sponsored nightlife take place in better locations, and particularly more outdoor events, in the spirit of the tent at Halloweekend. These spaces are easily accessible and visible for all students, and they might discourage boredom-fueled binge drinking by drawing them away from their residences and into a collective activity. The reduction in EMS calls over Halloween weekend demonstrates this potential already. However, Poughkeepsie noise regulations require that outdoor events end prior to 10 p.m., and security is forced to turn away many students at the door of these events due to attendance limitations. These stipulations are obviously not ideal for nightlife events.

VSA Programming and Vassar administration should make efforts to host outdoor parties whenever possible; if programming is planned well in advance, they may be able to argue for exceptions to the rule, which they have done in the past.

Another alternative space to consider for future events of a smaller scale than Halloween is the Villard Room. The Villard Room is a spacious area that could likely host all students interested in going out on a given night. The location in Main is central to the entire campus, and the room is secluded enough from residence halls that students who wish to stay in will not be disrupted by noises from the party, with perhaps the notable exception of Main residents. Most parties in the Villard Room last year were well received by students, and it has potential to become a central hub for weekend nightlife programming. Given the existing infrastructure on campus and the proximity of residence halls to large event venues, there is no perfect location where no one will be disturbed, but there are ways to compromise.

Overall, creating safe spaces to enjoy weekend nightlife at Vassar is an important step in the right direction, one that VSA Programming has started to make already with their planned upcoming event with the intent to combat negative campus party practices. We support the VSA’s efforts to improve these conditions this semester in conversation with a number of administrators, such as President Bradley and Dean di Bartolo.

We recognize the recent history of unsafe party practices in conjunction with the lack of all-campus party spaces, and we see ample opportunity for shifting this trend.

—The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.

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