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Waking Up the Neighbors

What happens when bad things happen to good ideas

By Adam Goldenberg

Last month, after the College announced that this year’s Harvard-Yale tailgate would be the most tightly regulated in history, the undergraduate response was swift. Whisperings of a mass boycott did laps of the student body, which complained loudly about the new rules; we were not amused. Seemingly deprived of fun on the most anticipated Saturday morning of the year, the weekend’s prognosis was dim.

And then there was a plan. Out of a late-night meeting, in the dank basement of University Hall, came an ingenious proposal to fill the void left by the tailgate’s evisceration—by making the days leading up to The Game the most exciting of the year. The idea was remarkably simple: have the College’s 12 House Committees (HoCos) cooperate to plan large campus-wide parties in House common spaces on the Thursday and Friday evenings before the Harvard-Yale game. By focusing the student body’s party-throwing energies on localized events—in the River on Thursday night, and in the Quad on Friday—the weekend’s dynamic could be one of communal celebration, involving the entire College, rather than of division, inherent in the smattering of smaller parties that traditionally takes place in the nights before The Game.

There were just two hurdles to clear before the plan could be executed. The first was the HoCos themselves. Always wary of being asked to spend their limited budgets on events that are not exclusive to their Houses, some HoCo leaders were ambivalent about chipping in to pay for parties for the whole College, not to mention for a bunch of Yalies. When they gave their assent last week, all was on course for a successful event—until House Masters intervened.

The Council of Masters, the deliberative body that has significant input on questions of House life, met last Wednesday to discuss the proposal. In a blow to undergraduates, the Masters decided to cancel the Thursday night’s parties. Now, instead of two consecutive nights of coordinated events, large parties will be confined to Friday evening, and will take place in the River and the Quad simultaneously.

The shortcomings of the modified plan of events are many. The menu of coordinated campus-wide events on Thursday night will now be severely limited—the original rationale behind planning parties that night was to maintain the momentum from the Harvard-Yale Pep Rally, during which thousands of undergraduates are expected in the Yard. After the Pep Rally ends, the reasoning went, the crowd could simply relocate to those River dining halls set to be used as party venues, rather than dispersing to smaller parties in smaller locations across campus.

Now, instead of sending a large mass of partygoers to spaces in the Quad on Friday night, the campus will be divided in two. Though the Harvard College Dean’s Office is quick with assurances that it will fund extra shuttles between the Quad and Harvard Square that night, the simple fact is that, with few exceptions, Quadlings will attend the parties in the Quad, and River-dwellers those in the River Houses. And no matter how much fun the divided Friday night party scene proves to be, the exciting possibility of having the whole College together on each of the two nights preceding The Game is now lost. The House Masters seem to have missed the point of planning the two nights of parties in the first place—to have the entire campus having fun in the same place, at the same time.

The reasoning behind the decision to cancel events on Thursday night—that two consecutive nights of College-sponsored partying would be excessively debaucherous—does have some merit, but is ultimately not compelling. It would be almost inconceivable at just about any other university, after all, for administrators to help fund one huge pre-game, and to support two in a single week would be exceptional to say the least. The fact of the matter is, however, that we’re not talking about just any weekend. The Harvard-Yale game comes to Cambridge once every two years, and it is a very big deal to undergraduates when it does. Students will be partying on that Thursday night, whether the College approves or not, and making it possible for them to do so together and in a controlled manner is ultimately in everyone’s best interest. The plan was never for Thursday night (or Friday, for that matter), to be a huge College-sponsored booze-fest; ID-checking Beverage Authorization Teams (BATs) were always in the game plan for the night to ensure that underage students would not be served alcohol at the events. The justification for cancelling Thursday’s festivities, then, rests on the Masters’ unease at the thought of supporting two campus-wide parties in a single week, which would never even be considered for any other week of the year. But if there ever is a weekend that deserves special treatment by administrators, the weekend of The Game is it.

Despite this week’s setback, HoCos and the Dean’s Office should stick to their guns and continue cooperating to plan the weekend’s events, curtailed though they may now be. A promising proposal has been compromised, and that’s a great shame. But the modified plans still call for large, College-supported parties on Friday night at the Quad and the River, which is a whole lot more than nothing. With a little bit of fancy footwork in the planning, Harvard-Yale weekend could yet be the most exciting of the fall semester. The Masters’ recalcitrance aside, it’s up to student leaders to make it happen.

Adam Goldenberg ’08 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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