On a typical weekend night, a Wes student can find themselves at a WestCo pregame, an Earth house concert, a DKE dance party, and the fountain backyards. But since the beginning of this school year, there have been fewer parties at Wesleyan. As a disgruntled student looking to have a good time, I set out to find the reason. I interviewed many Wesleyan students, administrators, Psafe officers, and fire safety officials and their stories revealed a complex picture. Essentially, there is a declining number of parties because of new maximum capacity rules in wood frame houses, a smaller fraternity presence, and program houses that are unable to fill the party void.
I first sought to understand the new maximum capacity regulations on campus. Over the summer, Fire Safety reevaluated the capacity limit for all the residential buildings on campus. Fran Koerting, the Director of Residential Life, explained that there was concern for student safety in large spaces for the past few years. Last year the floors collapsed due to overcapacity at 14 Fountain, 264 Court, and Earth House.
Wood frame houses used to have a uniform maximum capacity of 49 people, but as Scott Backer, the Associate Dean of Students, explained, “One universal policy, instead of looking at the space, doesn’t make sense.” So, over the summer the Middletown Fire Department worked with Physical Plant and Wesleyan Fire Safety to determine the “actual” maximum capacity of the houses. Here is a quick survey of some of the changes:
Eclectic’s capacity didn’t change, Earth House from 60 to 45, Bayit from 120 to 105, Art House 100 to 59, Full House 50 to 71, La Casa 75 to 54, BuHo Meditation room: 60 to 52
Basically the capacity of all program houses went down, except for Full House, which got a boost (time to step up and host a party!). While the program houses experienced a small dip in their capacity, wood frame houses took the largest hit. All wood frame houses used to have a uniform capacity of 49 people. Some houses are now only eligible to host as many as 12 people. Pine Palace, one of the largest senior houses on campus, has a 38-person capacity.
A major complaint among residents of these houses has been the lack of communication about the new rules. Koerting explained that students were able to see the new fire capacity rules on Wesleyan’s website before they chose houses in April. Many seniors that I talked to dispute this claim and a quick survey of the Wesleyan housing website also provides no information about the capacities of each house.
Seniors are now more hesitant to host events. “We’ve been feeling a lot of pressure not to have large social events,” said Jordan Ruttenberg ’15, a resident of Pine Palace. “Which is a shame because I know that stupid nights at Pine Palace were a really formative experience for me as a freshman.”
The administration does not share this sentiment. “Hopefully it’s leading to students just having their friends over,” Koerting explained about the “proper use” of wood frames. “The wood frames were never meant to be a social hub that are hosting parties for all students to go to.”
The administration anticipated the effect that lowered capacity would have on slowing down the Wesleyan party scene. However, they failed to come up with a satisfactory plan for how a different party scene might manifest. Koerting pointed to new events happening at Usdan like the late night music series that students could attend while acknowledging that they aren’t comparable to a wood frame party. Dean Backer hopes that parties will move in a safer direction with smaller crowds. He anticipates that students will be creative and find “new spaces to party.”
In previous years, fraternities would absorb the students dispersed from Fountain. However, due to the Beta incident, DKE and Psi U have experienced added scrutiny at all of their parties. Daniel Wittenberg ’16, the current president of Psi U, noticed that PSafe seems to care more about maximum capacity regulations at Fountain parties than in years past. However, Psi U has no plans to take in students kicked out of shut down Fountain parties for an extended night of partying. “Those events are a liability that we can’t really afford right now,” Wittenberg said. Psi U will still maintain a social space that will keep the students safe with registered, alcohol free events.
“With Beta [being shut down], the university’s gaze has been shifted and everyone in frats are on guard, which leads to a rigid social scene there,” said Ryan Heffernan ’16, the House Manager of Art House. The party scene is shifting towards program houses because they are the last available space to party on campus.
Over the years, Eclectic, Buddhist House, Earth House and, more recently, Art House have been known to cater to the casual, low-key music scene. Now, more pressure to have big parties and shows is shifting to them. When they have such events, it seems that a disproportionate number of Wesleyan students descend on their parties because of the relatively fewer “big events” on campus. Art House’s September 19th “Homecoming Concert” was of particular concern to all of the hosts (including myself). With 500 people trying to get in and a capacity limit of 59 people, there was no way to handle the crowds.
Despite the large attendance, “the concert was really comfortable, safe, fun and happy with no moshing, just people dancing and coming out to support their friends,” said Rachel Day ’16, a host of the Art House party. “Everyone was really respectful and conscientious.”
Even so, at 11:30pm, PSafe came to Art House, found Heffernan and explained that the event had to be shut down. Many people had entered through doors that weren’t intended to be open and the hosts had no way of accounting for them. Heffernan and Day were frustrated that it was shut down so suddenly, but acknowledged that they should have done a better job handling the crowd.
A week later, a Delicate Steve concert at Buddhist House was the only registered event of the night, so it was anticipated that it would be big.
“Goal number one: make sure concert kept going, people have fun,” said Leo Grossman ’16, the House Manager of BuHo. Before the event, he spoke to Heffernan to learn from the shut down at Art House. At previous concerts, Grossman would anticipate attendance by “dividing by two” the number of people who committed attendance via Facebook. At this show, however, twice the number of people came than those attending the Facebook event. When there were masses of people congregating in the BuHo parking lot, Grossman called PSafe to disperse the crowd.
“People need to be willing to host these parties and offer up these spaces, but be willing to deal with PSafe and potentially black out drunk angry people trying to get in,” said Heffernan.
Cal Hickox ’15, a former house manager of Eclectic, thinks that it is getting hard to pull off a concert at Wes. “More and more is coming down to risk mitigation with policies that feel alien to the student body that… haven’t been created with the voice of the students,” said Hickox. “[Students are feeling] disenfranchised, annoyed and apathetic in regards to putting together concerts events.”
Tony Bostick, the former Interim Director of Public Safety, explained that PSafe wants the students to have a good time and that their main purpose is to make sure no one gets hurt and it is a safe environment. Many students shared this sentiment about PSafe’s role as well.
“I don’t see PSafe as a force to get us,” said Wittenberg. “When they do shut down events it’s more out of concern for safety than anything else.”
“They really are just looking to make sure we are safe,” said Heffernan. “However, if the pattern continues, I think PSafe will become an inherent part of parties because whoever hosting it needs to have their back and get PSafe involved.”
The problem now is figuring out how to manage events when there are stricter capacity limits and more frequent PSafe visits. “We all anticipated that this was going to be a challenge,” said Dean Backer. “People have been doing a reasonable job of abiding by the expectations and hosting events that are pretty well-managed.”
However, students have received mixed results from the administration regarding penalties. The residents of Pine Palace believe the university has been pretty flexible with them. After a big party on the first weekend back to school that was broken up by PSafe, Dean Backer requested a meeting with them. They talked about safety and crowd control expectations and he issued a warning so they wouldn’t get points in the future. It was a courtesy call, in a sense, and they left unscathed. However, Heffernan and Day were both “written up” for co-hosting the Art House party.
“By coming down so hard on poorly hosted events in such a judicial disciplinary way, they are certainly not encouraging more events,” said Heffernan.
The multiple factors affecting the Wes party scene has frustrated many students and increased attendance at those events still happening. The administration isn’t offering any solutions to a problem they anticipated, though many students feel that PSafe is just doing their job. Once the weather gets cold and schoolwork gets more intense, fewer students will venture out. But those that do will be met with fewer options than before.
Once people start hosting more events, the log jam could be broken. Obviously it’s important for people managing such events to do the best job they can, but it’s also up to those in attendance to help out by being flexible, understanding and not doing anything that screws up the party (like pulling a fire alarm). So this is a call to action to take up your arms… and raise the roof!
Photo’s courtesy of Ryan Heffernan ’16