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Ah, yes. Always among the avant-garde, many grad students say Harvard's usual beginning-of-the-year cocktail parties are now abandoning the traditional for the trendy.
Once known for their wealth of fine sherry and smart suits, recent grad student-professor schmooze sessions seem to have taken a turn toward light wine and casual dress.
"We determined quite a number of years ago that it would be better to serve beer and wine and that it would be much more casual," says Stephan J. Baker, a Government Department administrator.
Still, Baker acknowledges, they don't serve just wine. They add that little bit extra, making a drink which future generations may someday regard as equally quaint as yesterday's sherry.
"French white dry wine and creme de cassis, it's started to be a trend thing because white wine is so cheap," Baker says.
But while the Gov Department's parties are much more casual, they are still far from wild.
"Graduate students are boring," says one of the more interesting ones, third-year Jay Greene. "People are older and so they don't belch loudly and beat their chests."
Despite the lack of sherry, Greene says there's still some element of formality to the gatherings. "People do dress up, more so than at other universities."
In the History Department, across campus at Robinson Hall, some students and scholars say sherry still predominates. But, they add, sherry isn't what it used to be.
"Sherry used to be sort of daring," says Trumball Professor of American History Donald H. Fleming. But he says the aspiring academicians of the 1990s, health conscious as they are, have moved onto a lighter fare.
"People under 40 are more likely to drink white wine," Fleming says. "The professional class have all given up smoking and drinking."
But despite Fleming's assurances, when History grad student Elka B. Klein went to the department's beginning-of-the-year cocktail party last September, she was really nervous.
For Klein, it wasn't so much the sherry, but the implicit dress code.
"I was the only woman in pants... well, there were other women in really nice pants, but I was in pants and a t-shirt," she says.
"I'd met my advisor, but just walking into a room with complete strangers and starting all over again was kind of scary," she says. Her attire "didn't help."
Yet, some departments claim to have moved with the times more than others. Back at Littauer, accross the lobby from Government, students agree that traditions have changed.
The Economics Department, which one history student says throws the best parties, has beer and wine mixers in September, a dance at Christmas, happy hours every two weeks, and tea-times every day.
Such a hopping social calender seems to build character--not to mention tolerance--says one Ec grad student.
"Graduate students are all very disciplined people, a few bottles of beer won't bring them down," says fifth-year grad Yijiang Wang.
And this skill improves with years, Wang says, adding, "the professors are better controlled than the graduate students."
But despite their restraint and cultivated sense of decorum, they go all out at Christmas, when Wang says the the economics lounge "looked like a discotheque."
Some Things Remain
Although the drinks may have changed, many grad students say the pressures are still there. For many, meeting professors and top scholars can be a tense experience.
Asked if he felt the pressure, Wang said, "sometimes, yes. When we are talking [to faculty members], something will be about economics and they can understand how well I understand the subject."
Indeed, if even the more casual socials set graduate students to worrying, some of the more traditional departments really scare the faint of heart.
As a second-year philosophy student, Bill F. Bristow says he feels a little anxious when the department's annual year-opener rolls around.
"I think it's pretty nerve-wracking," he says. "Meeting the profs is fairly angst-ridden. And you think it matters--it probably doesn't--just people think it does."
Unlike the grad students, Bristow says some professors seem right at home. "Once in a while a professor will sit down at the piano and sing," he says.
According to this second-year grad, Professor Warren D. Goldfarb takes this opportunity to try out his song-writing talents. He likes to compose and sing his own ballads about the department.
"They're modelled on Gilbert and Sullivan songs," Bristow says.
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