Homecoming just wrapped up, leaving carelessly littered streets and hungover Cornellians in its wake. Between the random, drunken screaming on West Campus, the swarm of students hungry for free merch, and the nail-biting thriller between two titans of college sport, there are few times I’ve felt prouder to attend the highest ranked school in New York state.
I found myself enjoying the weekend’s theatrics all from the comfort of the Olin basement, where I sat struggling to write this column and trying to remember which amino acids have ionizable side chains. I stayed tuned into the action via my Instagram feed and observed as groups of red-clad students traversed from block party to block party, pretending for just a few days that being a Cornellian is as great as Andy Bernard would have us believe.
Those who know me or my column can probably guess that I’m not a party-goer. It would be disingenuous for me to say that I don’t see the appeal of parties, because I certainly understand the value of letting go and living spontaneously from time to time. Parties are common targets for mildly pretentious introverts like myself to rag on, as if we’ve achieved a higher level of sociological enlightenment by disliking loud music and big crowds. Claiming that I couldn’t possibly fathom why anyone likes to party is just too easy of a take for a column as renowned as “Noah’s Arc”.
My first experience with parties at Cornell was during my freshman year, back when social stigma against parties was at an all-time high for obvious reasons (COVID). A friend of mine had invited me to a meeting for an Asian-American student club, and I hesitantly obliged. I suppose years of church youth group and high school clubs clouded my judgment, because I assumed the meeting would be a time of discussion about Asian-American culture and diaspora, exploring what it means to be Asian-American at Cornell and unpacking generations of history and adversity to discover what our heritages can say about our identities. Once we started approaching the host’s apartment and I saw that the windows were lined with booze, I figured that my assumption was at least slightly off-base.
I look back on that story and laugh, mostly because of how much my outlook has since changed to match the reality of college life (I now assume that basically all Asian-American clubs are formed as excuses to drink soju and make dumplings every now and then). As soon as I realized the situation I was in, I more or less ran for my jacket and out the door back to North Campus, not because I felt too cool to be there, but because I didn’t know how to have fun in that kind of environment.
Parties have always held a kind of cynicism in my mind. It never feels like you have people looking after you for reasons that aren’t self-serving. We’re already flooded with so many responsibilities to other people in our academic lives that parties are the time for indulgence and selfishness to run wild. Other people are just instruments meant to give you the best night possible. We’re assigned value in the group by how fun of a drunk we are.
A great example of this is Greek Life. Now, I won’t reiterate the many horror stories and statistics that are often used to bring light to the worst parts of Greek Life. As the small cluster of “these hands don’t haze” picket signs on the Arts Quad so powerfully (read: not very powerfully) reminded us last week, hazing is an evil practice that is about as cynical as they come. And fraternities aren’t the only groups guilty; in the 2019 fall semester, the Cornell Mock Trial team was suspended for hazing rituals that involved pizza-eating, beer-drinking and LSAT question-answering contests — a little too much mock, not enough trial.
What stands out to me most about Greek Life is its exclusivity. Fraternities and sororities have historically been known for their prestige, but that label doesn’t mean much when you consider the standards being used to achieve these levels of competition. The idea of interviewing for a fraternity or sorority strikes me as a particularly self-inflated practice, as you’re basically interviewing to become part of someone’s friend group.
It’s one thing to be accepted to a university or a project team, as those admissions processes involve at least some form of verifiable expertise. But with the party scene and Greek Life, you’re basically touting the fact that a few random upperclassmen think you’re someone deserving of their strongly-rooted brotherhood. If you couldn’t already tell, this week I’m really trying to channel the positive mindset I endorsed in my previous column.
What all these parties and Greek Life organizations are ultimately trying to achieve is community. Humans are social creatures and college students have very little time to spare, so parties have to provide a very fun-concentrated experience. Fraternities and sororities take it to the next level by filtering the kinds of people who get to have fun with them, ensuring that the rest of the group can have the best time possible.
This approach to creating fun is too commodified for my taste. People throw parties to have fun, but they require a detachment from each of our personal identities that makes the whole affair seem impersonal. Out on the dance floor and in the fraternity and sorority houses, everyone is looking out for themselves, only interested in making their night as memorable as possible. At a school as competitive as Cornell, I spend too much of my time battling the curve to have to fend for myself at a party full of strangers.
Community shouldn’t require exclusivity, and having fun doesn’t have to be something you’d rather your parents not see. We should strive to create groups that have fun while also uplifting one another in an inclusive and self-sacrificial way. I’ve been lucky enough to find a community that provides that, no liquor chugging required. If you look hard enough and with the right mindset, having a social life doesn’t have to mean parties and red Solo cups.
Noah Do ‘24 is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Noah’s Arc runs every other Sunday this semester.