Patching a broken social scene

The Williams party scene is broken. A good party draws a crowd and gets loud, but, at Williams, as soon as good party gets underway, it gets discovered and shut down. The very characteristics of success breed failure. This situation that has left students and party planners frustrated is dismal, but by no means a lost cause.

Those involved at all levels of party operations – from the head honchos at Campus Safety and Security down to the drunk partygoer – must make the efforts necessary to lift the social scene out of this insidious catch-22. Continued and thorough consideration of the pitfalls of certain venues, increased communication with community members, and a positive attitude are all key elements to harnessing the energy of recent weekends and throwing successful and lasting events.

It can’t be denied that the available venues for parties and concerts are far from ideal. Holding concerts and First Fridays in dining halls is a throwback to high school or even middle school. But we simply don’t have that ideal all-purpose space with sound-proof walls and enough room for Williams weekenders, and we probably will never get one. Especially considering the fact that the College’s sustainability commitment mandates the addition of no more floor space after 2011, when the Stetson-Sawyer project is completed, party planners must make the most of those spaces on campus that we already have instead of lamenting the lack of a dream locale.

Just because we don’t have the dream locale doesn’t mean we can’t throw successful parties with those we have, however. Lasell Gymnasium, for instance, has not seen much action besides poster sales and Purple Key and study abroad fairs, but as an event space it has potential. It may not be a superdome, but its large interior and central location make it a viable option for those larger parties students seem to be craving recently. Granted, the $175 required to cover the old floorboards for non-athletic events can be prohibitive, but we’d hope those planning on throwing such large parties would have the funds to overcome this financial hurdle.

The return of Goodrich Hall next fall will add another popular venue back on the list. Although the wait-it-out method doesn’t seem like an especially favorable solution to party woes, it helps to know that the beloved home to First Fridays will be making a triumphant return this fall.

The problem is that we want parties, and we want them now. Seniors, who can’t afford to wait until the next school year, have the right to be a little indignant. For those looking for immediate social gratification tent parties provide an alluring, albeit problematic alternative venue. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that tent parties are a lost cause. After all, it only takes the phone calls of a few angry neighbors (or one angry neighbor phoning in several times) to cause tent party break-up.

These party-ending complaints are frustrating for us, as we attempt to head outdoors at the first signs of warm weather. Yet while it seems somewhat absurd that one of Saturday’s noise complaints came from a residence 1.6 miles from Poker Flats, simply demanding that neighbors put up with our ruckus will get us nowhere. There will always be those more apt to making the fatal call to WPD. Instead of expecting our neighbors to change, we must be willing to make concessions.

Recent evidence suggests that even if not fool-proof, careful planning can considerably prolong outdoor parties. Matt Koven ’09, the student planner in charge of TogaSpank, visited and handed out fliers to 200 homeowners around Poker Flats and thus built up credibility with nearby residents and security forces. Ultimately the party was broken up but his consideration ensured that Security did not shut down the party until Williamstown police had received five noise complaints. Normally it takes only two to put a premature end to students’ revelry.

Like Koven, party planners should considerately inform Williamstown residents who live within earshot of their party that it may be audible to them and request their mutual consideration before calling the police. Whether by going door-to-door, making calls or distributing flyers, students could increase interaction with community members, which might at least make the neighbors think twice before phoning WPD.

Despite this and despite the slack cut by WPD and Security, TogaSpank still ended far too early for many eager party-goers. To combat this, students can start potentially loud outdoor parties earlier. As long as the neighbors are voluntarily awake, they probably will not call to make noise complaints. After midnight, as they try to go to sleep, their complaints become more valid and understandable. Although late-night hours are generally more conducive to successful parties, an early party is better than no party at all.

Without resigning ourselves to an unstable social life, we must still remember what we all knew when we came here: Williamstown is not a party village, and Williams College is not a party school. The nature of the beast, nonetheless, need not preclude amazing weekends, just so long as Williams people keep their heads on about it. And, while not a recipe for party-scene revival, communication, consideration, careful planning and a willingness to try underused venues may indeed foster the seemingly impossible: large social gatherings at Williams.