Ban on themed parties: Helpful or hypocritical?

Colby has always had a strong drinking culture.  There’s no denying it—not with the omnipresence of beer cans strewn around after a weekend’s worth of parties and the operation of an on-campus pub at the heart of the Spa.  Recently, however, the College administration has installed a ban on themed parties across campus and downtown. Colby should reevaluate its stance on themed parties, as well as face their own inconsistency in the application of their newly-founded ban.  Although the benefits to lifting the ban on themed parties may not be immediately apparent, some thoughtful examination of the consequences of such a ban may help to illuminate these advantages. While the ban on themed parties was originally borne out of consideration for the safety and well-being of students, it is, in effect, fairly negligent of some of its auxiliary repercussions.

Including the notion of a theme in a party allows for students who make the decision not to drink to engage much more easily with others at the party. Broadly, a party with no theme but alcohol is just drinking and a party with no alcohol is a get-together. It takes both elements combined in unison to define a party. Otherwise, with no themes, students are relegated to getting together to drink on weekends for the sole purpose of drinking. It’s a sad prospect of a notion for a college, where students drink just to get over the past week, and certainly not one the College would be inclined to promote.

“Themed parties encourage group bonding and are a fun event to look forward to,” Danny Lent ’21 said.

Of course, it must be addressed that themes that are offensive and hurtful to people, or themes which encourage or mandate excessive consumption of alcohol, are already prohibited by other rules at Colby—and rightfully so. At its core, the new ban on themed parties exists to address these hurtful and harmful themes, not harmless costume parties—although neither is allowed under the ban. But themed parties are not intrinsically harmful because of the fact that they’re themed. Rather, it’s the choice of the theme that has made harmful parties what they were.  Drinking at Colby will always be a factor in the social lives of students. It’s an inevitability, for better or worse. This is not to say that everyone at Colby is active in the drinking culture—or from it.

The current programming for students who elect not to engage in the drinking culture is robust, but erects an artificial dividing wall between drinkers and non-drinkers, thus creating two discrete groups of students borne out of one unified student body. Dismembering the student body into two distinct branches inadvertently places a greater importance on a student’s decision between drinking and not.

In reality, it is more likely that any given student’s mantra on alcohol consumption ought to fall better on a continuous scale rather than making it a binary decision. Put another way, this division between drinkers and non-drinkers forces a student to fully commit to either lifestyle—but not both, or at least not without the sacrifice of one group on any given night. 

This bifurcation in the student population is perhaps most amplified for students who “jumps sides” by either abstaining from or participating in events that include drinking. In these cases, students may experience a rough transition into or out of sobriety, because their group of friends has already firmly planted its stake in the ground of either camp.  As a result, these students can miss out on many events on weekend nights, where many of their friends are out and about with others with the same opinion on drinking.

Lest we forget, it’s called drinking culture for a reason, and cultures have historically placed an emphasis on attire. Some cultures or historical ages are defined (or at least categorized) by the style of clothing worn by a given people at a given time. And yet, in this blossoming golden age of total freedom of corporeal expression through clothes—where any style of garment imaginable is now available via online shopping and eclectic thrift stores—the College administration wants to rip the right to express oneself from its very own student body.

With the blanketing ban on all theme parties fully in effect, it is hard to ignore the seasonal context of Halloween, which was celebrated by Colby students this past weekend. A College-sponsored evening event for juniors and seniors was held on the night of Halloween, where students were encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes to a local bar downtown. Those who are under the legal drinking age of 21 were permitted access to the bar, though they were not provided drinks. It is impossible to ignore this window into the prevalent drinking culture being enjoyed by the Colby community. This was clearly a themed party (and a heavily attended one at that), yet it was inexplicably embraced by the College administration.

Another instance of the disparity in what is and is not considered a themed party came earlier this fall at Paving the Road, the annual Colby-sponsored networking event. Paving the Road is aimed to connect students with affluent alumni and to help hone students’ skills in preparation for entering the working world.  Students of legal drinking age are offered alcoholic beverages and are dressed in nearly-identical professional garb. Not a far cry from a themed party, by any standard. Is the Colby administration knowingly moving the goalposts in order to benefit only when it is convenient for them, thereby wholly ignoring a standardized application of their stance on theme parties? Or, alternatively, are they so concerned with case-by-case basis, micro-scale applications of their opinion on theme parties that they’ve been lost in their own hypocrisy?

In life, unlike in Jeopardy, we are often presented with more questions than answers, and unfortunately this is an example of exactly such a situation. One can only hope that the College’s administrators reevaluate their decision and application of the ban on all themed parties.