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Harvard Parties Aren’t That Bad

General discontent with Harvard’s party scene is more about unrealistic and unmet expectations than about insurmountable obstacles.

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

If you’ve had the distinct honor of attending a party in Pforzheimer House’s belltower suite, you’ve probably wished the Harvard party scene was a bit different. There’s usually too many people, too little alcohol, and far too many concerningly drunk freshmen. The floors are sticky, sweat covers the arch of your forehead, and the friend you came with is making out with some boy he just met. 

Dorm room parties, likely the social event the average Harvard undergrad will frequent the most during their four years, follow the aforementioned formula. Understandably, many people want more from their social lives. Harvard is lackluster and the parties aren’t as fun as the ones at the state schools their friends attend. 

But behind these complaints, there has to be another source of disappointment: College parties are not as wild or exciting as popular media has deceived us into believing they should be. Yet, at a place of prestige and wealth like Harvard, people have invested innumerable resources into holding onto that idealized dream. They’ve hurt campus life in the process. 

There are a number of real obstacles to creating the most vibrant social scene possible at Harvard. There are no large, off-campus bars or similar spaces catered to college students’ nights out. Many dorm renovations have taken away common rooms and other private social spaces. Formal processes in the Houses for hosting parties are tedious and excessive.

But beyond these limitations, our discontent with Harvard parties is a matter of failed expectations. We’ve grown up on movies that stage the wildest, humanistics, and extravagant parties imaginable. A large part of the movie “Superbad” is about the protagonist’s attempt to get to his crush’s party, during which they crash another rowdy party brimming with alcohol and cocaine. “Project X” is an entire movie about an attempt to become more popular through an insane party. Listicles give you options galore for determining the most iconic college party  — “Animal House,” “PCU,” “How High.” 

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These scenes, whether we’re actively aware of it or not, influence our desires. Movies socialize us, shape our behaviors, and imbed us with ideologies. There’s a certain fetizishization of what our party culture should look like, and it clouds what we seek out of our social lives. We want parties that allow us to lose control, obliterate inhibitions, and embrace excess until we’re sprawled out on a couch somewhere. We’re searching, inevitably, for one of the opening scenes in “The Social Network.” 

The movie, which tracks Mark Zuckerberg’s journey from Harvard to Silicon Valley royalty, starts with a final club party. A bus full of attractive women is led to the front door of a final club by a bouncer dressed in black-tie. 

“Everybody! ... You’re at one of the most exclusive clubs, not just at Harvard, but in the world,” a member of the Phoenix Club tells the crowd. Soon, women are undressing on top of tables in slow motion for the group of men watching them. Two women are kissing for an audience, and a game of strip poker ensues. The party is all about sex, alcohol, and even more sex. 

The scene is a glamorization of the actual multimillion-dollar mansions that line Mount Auburn St., and the lines of young women who line up in the freezing cold for the chance to attend a party there.  When other areas of Harvard social life don’t allow for that ideal, people turn to final clubs. (Anyone who says they’re in a club for the networks or the community is telling you half-truths at best.) The appeal of a final club is intrinsically tied to the party culture we’ve been primed for: scantily-clad, drug-filled debauchery away from the eyes of authority.

When people say they wish that Harvard parties were better, I hear them asking for more parties like those they imagine happening at final clubs and in Hollywood films. But, as others have written before, final clubs are inherently exclusionary bastions of privilege. Because we’re at Harvard, where there are more students who come from families in the top 1 percent than the bottom 20 percent, entry into these organizations is tied to class. To roll in the final club scene, you have to have the money for Ubers, dues, and the other costs associated with that brand of nightlife. Harvard students are able to grasp for what they believe a really exciting, legendary college party to be. The key are the final clubs, but, if you’re not rich, the locks are tight and spare keys a rarity.

Many with complaints are seeking a shift towards a social life with the kinds of excesses, often financial, only possible at a place like Harvard. Bringing the final club scene to the masses, or opening up the door just a tiny bit wider, won’t cure our dissatisfaction with our social scene.

Social spaces based on your gender or class background should not be the gold standard for those seeking a thrilling night out. Instead, we have to reimagine what our ideal party scene strives for. Inclusivity, safety, comfort, accessibility, and community should be higher on our list of priorities. 

The architects of this new party scene, who seemingly care more about togetherness than excessive and exclusivity, are already working. Cultural groups throw great parties, with reggaeton blasting and drinks flowing. Queer-affirming parties pop off. The shift in Harvard social life is on its way. But we have to accelerate it by asking ourselves the difficult questions: What are we looking for when we get dressed up to go out on a Friday night? Are we trying to have a good time? Or are we really knocking at the doors of multimillion-dollar mansions to feel as if we belong — a feeling only possible by the exclusion of others? 

Harvard parties aren’t that bad. You just have to make sure you’re going to the right ones.

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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