by Andrew Segraves
Many students have noticed that there have been many changes in the last few years in regard to on-campus parties sanctioned by administrations of one or more of the Claremont Colleges. There have been many name changes and theme changes, sometimes due to assertions of cultural appropriation, which seems to be one of the most important buzz terms in Claremont right now. Some parties have changed venues, or have been cancelled completely. Sexual assault, alcohol-related transports, and occasionally fights all contribute to changing policies and views on Claremont parties. Regardless of whether you’re upset about PUB being cancelled every other week and a ban on serving alcohol at Sunday through Wednesday events, or other parties no longer serving alcohol, or Eurotrash becoming Eurobash, the fact is that there are valuable discussions to be had about the changes we have seen over the last few years.
There have been some pretty clear changes to names and themes of parties. This is a subject that many people are quite touchy about, some for good reason and others not so much. My freshman year there was a party at CMC that was called something along the lines of “Bros and Navajos.” I think we can all agree that such a theme is pretty atrocious, to say the least, whether or not you have any Native American heritage. However, other party themes that involve non-American cultures are not always clearly offensive. Last year a party planned at a college in the Northeast was cancelled due to its name and theme. Phiesta, a play on the Spanish word for party (fiesta), and the Greek letter Phi, was planned by a sorority and a fraternity. The party was to have a Mexican theme with burritos and margaritas all for Cinco de Mayo. How offensive is it to use another culture as a party theme? To some people, it’s a no-brainer; you simply don’t do it. To others, it might seem like an innocent mistake. However, the important takeaway from a situation such as this one is that it’s necessary to consider how others feel, especially if their culture is being appropriated, mocked, or simply employed as an excuse to listen to certain music, eat certain food, and probably get really, really drunk.
So what about Pitzer Luau, which is no longer called such? The Hawaiian theme is a classic, and is clearly overused, but many people don’t give any thought to its significance, and that’s the biggest problem. Whether or not very many people care about the Pitzer Luau isn’t the issue; the problem is that no one asks if it’s considerate and appropriate. Finally, there’s Eurotrash. Just a few weeks ago, one of Claremont’s most infamous parties happened once again, rocking the Scripps parking garage and surely creating at least a few bad memories. Except this year it was Eurobash. “What is a Eurobash?” people asked. “I know what Eurotrash is,” they said. Most people probably don’t see a Eurotrash theme as the same issue as another ethnic theme, but it’s still a conversation that we need to have. The top definition from Urbandictionary.com states that Eurotrash is “a human sub-phylum characterized by its apparent affluence, worldliness, social affectation and addiction to fashion”. Ouch. We need to keep talking about how we can better understand other cultures and be more sensitive, rather than just making assumptions about what’s offensive and what isn’t. One thing that’s often overlooked is the way in which we have these discussions. Too often those who are more culturally sensitive and politically correct allow problems to occur, and then voice their arguments, criticizing those at fault. A far better approach would be to preemptively help stop these decisions from being made, through expressing reasonable arguments against offensive themes. Not everyone understands that they’re engaging in cultural appropriation, and it makes much more sense to help them understand than to let them do it, then yell at them for being ignorant and racist.
Apart from changes in theme, many parties have been suspended, restricted from serving alcohol, moved to a different venue, or canceled all together. At Pitzer, this has been less of an issue than at other schools, and Pomona is where most of the recent drama has ensued. Here’s the issue: like most colleges (sadly), we have a lot problems related to substance, sexual assault, and occasionally fights between individuals or groups of students. Often two or more of these issues are intertwined. The perennial question, is, what the best approach to take is. Over the past few years, PUB, one of Pomona’s most popular parties, held in Dom’s Lounge, has been suspended. KD (Kappa Delta, a “fraternity”), is frequently in hot water because of the number of alcohol-related hospital transports, sexual assaults, and other incidents that are associated with PUB. Even if KD isn’t doing as good a job as they should be with keeping people safe, simply ending PUB or shutting down KD is not the answer, just as PUB and KD are not the problem. Although some sexual assaults have been reported at PUB itself, my perception has been that most reports have been following parties, and not actually at the parties. The point is that we have a problem with sexual assault, and that alcohol is often involved. We need to recognize that whether or not PUB happens, sexual assault will continue to happen. The same is true for substance abuse.
Earlier this semester, PUB was suspended because multiple students were taken to the hospital after drinking too much. PUB was later reinstated, but KD can no longer provide two kegs of beer to 21+ year olds as they previously did. However, these measures hardly move in the right direction at all. Our generation’s culture and college party mentality mandates that we pregame and black out before heading to parties; the hosts of parties do not require or encourage it. Pomona’s ban on alcohol at Sunday through Wednesday parties likely does not reduce the chance that individuals will drink too much, nor does it greatly reduce the likelihood of sexual assault. It is plausible that having less alcohol provided is a step in the right direction, and that the presence of alcohol may just provide another bad influence, but it is not a lasting solution.We need to do a better job as a community in addressing these important issues, rather than just hoping that they are isolated incidents that can be prevented by canceling events.
Take a look at Foam, perhaps neck and neck with Euro[trash/bash] in terms of infamy and regrettable decisions (never ever wear shoes, or clothes, as a matter of fact.) Every year, thousands of scantily-clad men and women RSVP and head over to Mudd, many lacking sobriety, and inevitably the party gets too wild and is shut down. Most years it lasts until around midnight. Sometimes, it actually gets closer to its actual end time. However, this year it was shut down at around 11:30PM. Initially, most people didn’t really understand why, and kept dancing and yelling, despite the protests of hired security. It turns out that multiple people were transported, at least one fight broke out, and of least concern was what usually goes in the foam by the back wall. Rumor has it that Foam won’t be happening at all next year. Alas, the party that everyone loves to hate even though they love to go to it is no more. I knew it well. But what is the endgame? Won’t we just find another party to take its place? Eventually that party will get canceled as well. The discussion we need to be having is about whether we can find a way to balance safety and fun at college parties, in a way that students and administration agree is reasonable.
There is a single point that I’m trying to make about college parties in all regards, whether it’s the name, location, theme, or any other attribute. We need to communicate with each other in a more positive, efficient manner. It’s as simple as that. We deserve to have a safe party environment where sexual assault, alcohol-related transports, and offensive themes aren’t a constant threat. We need to discuss how to prevent sexual assaults, and support victims when they do happen. We need to change the way that we view substance abuse, especially in terms of drinking. I’m not advocating teetotalism, but carrying around that fifth of cheap vodka all night isn’t healthy or safe, and it affects you and the people around you. We need to talk about cultural appropriation and racism before it happens, not after. If we spent more time having these discussions, we would probably have fewer party cancellations, and more fun. Maybe this is too idealist, but it’s worth a shot (pun really, sincerely not intended.)