The weary Friday sun sets on Libe Slope, and Cornell’s alter ego emerges as the night falls. Slews of students trade in their books for beer, marking the paradigm shift from the intellectual atmosphere of day to the Collegetown mosh pits of night. The pregame, party, hangover cycle starts anew as the academic weekday Jekyll morphs into the partying weekend Hyde.
Our campus is many things — from an intellectual community to a research powerhouse (or whatever else the admissions brochures say) — but come nightfall, we must accept our nocturnal reality as a party school. A turn-on for some, a red flag for others, the label exists. I recall my Cornell Days admitted students event, where sorority girls chirped that though Greek life has a campus presence, I won’t feel it if I choose not to take part.
Two weeks into the semester, I choose not to take part, yet I feel it when slews of guys in tank tops and girls in crop tops stumble through my floor, pregamed and ready to move on to frat parties — whatever, I manage to tune them out.
I feel it when I nearly step into that Saturday morning pile of vomit on my dorm’s stairs — elevator it is, once again.
I feel it when my residential advisor walks past rooms overflowing with music and inebriated freshmen into the study lounge at the end of the hallway, where he questions my choice to stay in and do homework on a weekend night — well, that one isn’t too easy to get over. Because although my RA has no wrong intent, perhaps his perception speaks to a larger reality on this campus: Here, the weekend norm is to party and get wasted. Anybody else is an outcast.
As freshmen flock to Collegetown on Friday nights, the deserted North campus remains home only to those who remain in their dorm rooms and others like me who find themselves stranded in the middle of the spectrum — wanting to be social, with no desire to get drunk at a party. As I study in my floor’s lounge on a Friday night, I feel as though I’m part of a dying species.
I have numerous friends who would much rather stay in and play cards, but feel obligated to go to parties to not appear lonely or, for that matter, different in any way from the mainstream. An unspoken social contract binds us to partying once we enroll, convincing us that abstaining would mean missing out on the college experience. As such, especially at a school like Cornell, one is forced to swim upstream to avoid the party scene; our school’s nighttime culture has absorbed the party-goers and the remainder of our student body alike.
This same partying that is so prevalent in the social mainstream can also be traced back to the root of the college’s recent history of hazing. Cornell parties can even tie back to the area’s relatively frequent underage alcohol sales. But, perhaps more relevant is the social stigma imposed on the student body by our party culture. Clearly, the partying ripple effect reaches far beyond the frats.
Nowadays, staying in on a weekend is perceived as unnatural — and the strange looks I receive in the study lounge on Friday nights are all the proof I need. “Friday nights are wild nights” and “Saturdays are for the boys” — but time to relax sober with genuine friends often fails to top the lineup.
On one of the first days after move-in, a friend of mine volunteered to take a picture of a group just as they were heading out to a party. At first glance, they seemed like best friends, but after the camera flashed, they turned to ask for each other’s names (presumably they forgot them shortly after tagging each other in the post). Building relationships has taken the back-burner; pretending to do so online is all that matters now. Our culture awards clout to those who can best draw-up the illusion of popularity, discriminating against those with fewer — yet often more genuine — friendships. On social media, it’s this middle-schoolish popularity contest that drives the post, drink, repeat cycle.
But aside from this larger party culture that extends beyond Cayuga’s slopes, the greater shame is that those on this campus who don’t want to take part rarely have a choice. Going out to party on the weekend has become the default, and the rest of us are swept into this norm regardless of choice; the culture chooses for us.
So for those of us who wouldn’t otherwise drink under flashing strobe lights, there is nothing to be ashamed of. There should be no feeling of obligation to flock to Collegetown with the herd if the only purpose is to not be seen as an outlier. I struggle to deal with this truth, as do many of my friends, as do many others. But breaking off from the mainstream party culture would fix our distorted social state where heavy partying engulfs many who don’t even want to take part.
Roei Dery is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.