In March 2005, senior class presidents Voltaire Casino and Lora Seery emailed the Sarah Lawrence student body to announce the end of the Coming Out Dance. Beginning in 1989, scantily clad revelry and sexual celebration had filled Bates hall every fall. However, Casino and Seery wrote, “The event has become a massive drinking party, having little to do with sexuality or community.”
“The rapid increase of drug and alcohol abuse has reached a dangerous level and must be curtailed,” the presidents decreed. This message marked an exasperated administrative shift in security policy. The year before, Sarah Lawrence began requiring party registration, increasing tension between worried administrators and students eager to gather. An SLC alum (who started at the school in 2001 and preferred not to be named), said of the 2003-04 changes, “Previously, security’s main purpose was to protect students, and after that their main purpose was to police students.”
This alum describes security in her day: “My first Sarah Lawrence party, I was handcuffed to the banister of AC 6. I had just turned 18. I had electrodes strapped to my stomach, one girl holding my cigarette, because you could still smoke in dorms, and another girl holding a bottle of champagne from which I was occasionally drinking. Security walked in, looked around; there are half-naked people everywhere. I’m an 18-year-old handcuffed to the banister, clearly drinking. He goes, ‘Guys, you got two noise complaints,’ and he looks at me and goes, ‘Are you okay?’ I say, ‘I’m great!’ And so he goes, ‘Have fun kids!’ and he leaves.”
This scenario occurred her freshman year, fall of 2001. For security to shut a party down, they needed to hear three noise complaints from three different people. The year before, sophomores were guaranteed singles and beer was sold in the pub. In many ways, Sarah Lawrence was an enclave of both intimacy and freedom.
The Coming Out Dance and Sleaze Week were legendary affairs. In an article titled “‘Pedophilia Art’ in the Classroom”, Women’s Quarterly reported, “At Sarah Lawrence College during ‘Sleaze Week,’ students were exhorted to ‘tighten their strap-on’ and ‘put on their favorite g-string’ for a dance complete with ‘whatever turns you on.’” In 2001, a crowd in Reisinger participated in a hands-on female ejaculation workshop (I’ll leave the details up to your vivid imagination).
Earlier that fall, adventurous Nerve columnist Grant Stoddard and his compatriots attended the Coming Out Dance out of “journalistic obligation.” Stoddard’s friend Brian posted photos and commentary, still thankfully alive online. “Okay, so it’s like midnight, the dancehall’s filled with probably close to 800 people (90% women) and all of a sudden, all of the girls start taking off their clothes and dancing around topless and/or naked,” Brian writes on his blog. Scroll down, and you’ll see some “Straight Up Fucking” on the dancefloor.
Even with 2012’s comparatively tame social scene, we still deal with drug and alcohol-related hospitalization. The evolution of administrative priorities, class division, and a general change in college culture (binge drinking has increased across the nation) resulted in the Sarah Lawrence culture we know today..
In 1998, SLC hired former president Michele Myers to better Sarah Lawrence’s reputation and to increase funding. Presumably, donors were wary about giving money to a campus filled with drug and Foucault-fueled sexual deviants.
She didn’t need to do much, until 12 students went to the hospital during the 2002 Coming Out Dance. According to the anonymous alum, this was due to a disruption in the chain of drug dealers on campus. The head drug dealer had one rule: “If you get caught, you say you got your drugs in the city.” This applied to both under-dealers and clients. Simple.
The network functioned beautifully, until Freshman Dealer sold 12 ecstasy pills to his peers. They were cut, a fact he neglected to tell the unsuspecting freshmen. The 12 rolling teens went to the hospital, and each turned on their source. Freshman Dealer, in turn, told on the kingpin of Sarah Lawrence’s drug operation.
This violation of trust resulted in the “Freshman Embargo.” SLC’s coalition of drug dealers refused to sell to any freshman until after winter break. They wanted to teach a lesson then revisit the issue when everyone returned. But, “We woke up one morning to find every tree on campus stapled with a sign that said, “Green is for everybody! Stop the Freshman Embargo!” the anonymous alum says. “It made the school hyper-aware of the fact that there were still dealers on campus, which started another crackdown.”
Upperclassmen resented freshmen for their immature actions, and freshmen lost the benefit of knowledge from experienced drinkers and drug-doers. How were the fresh-out-of-high-schoolers to know when 10 shots was too much? How could they judge whether their city-purchased E was laced with meth? This division between Sarah Lawrence classes meant increased alcohol poisoning and thus, heightened security.
Sleaze Ball was cancelled after spring 2006. “This wasn’t without reason;” Joe Lazauskas ’10 says, “the Sleaze Ball and Coming Out Dance had consistently produced disconcerting amounts of alcohol poisoning cases, which indicated that, though we like to brand ourselves as crazy naked omni-sexual intellectuals, a lot of us couldn’t really play the role without getting dangerously sloshed.”
Fast forward to 2011. At this fall’s “Back to the Grind” dance party, we blamed the first years’ irresponsibility for the four intoxicated students taken to the hospital. Increased security clearly doesn’t eradicate Sarah Lawrence’s social problems, nor does it improve our reputation in the long run. We’ve always maintained superior, intimate academics, but the social scene has become unappealing.
SLAC’s dance committee has done a commendable job bringing DJs and regular events to the Blue Room; last weekend’s Zombie Prom (hosted by the senior class) was a surprising hit. But the Blue Room and North Lawn can’t be our only venues for play. Other schools thrive through school-sanctioned parties at fraternities/sororities or themed houses. We’ve always rejected any semblance of structure that could be construed as limiting. But some sense of structure allows adventure to erupt between the lines.
What if every Mead Way house took turns throwing parties on Friday nights? They would supply alcohol, music, and decorations. Warren Green could even serve organic vodka. They’d pretend to check IDs (as every fraternity does), and allow security to intrude if the crowd grew over capacity. Otherwise, it’s hands off and everyone trusts that the Sarah Lawrence student community will take care of one another.
In addition, SLAC would welcome a new committee: PHAR. Party Hard And Responsibly. One student from each year is voted onto the board, and they meet to organize party environments in which students can experiment freely and safely, all the while strengthening the campus network and unifying spirit. Yeah, we’re different. That doesn’t mean we can’t be individuals together.
Sarah Lawrence is a small campus filled with smart, creative people. It seems silly that we haven’t figured out a unique solution to an age-old issue. Drugs and alcohol are facts of college life; we’re never going to accept kickball games or movie nights as valid alternatives. Instead of desperate diversion, education and trust are the factors that separate a divisive police state from a symbiotic community.
By creating a positive social scene, Sarah Lawrence will open itself to more applicants, a closer community, and exciting alumni stories. We are a group of high-functioning, game-changing individuals; we deserve to be involved in adventures of every kind, whether we’re frantically chasing down the perfect Goethe quote or playing King’s Cup on Pride Rock.
Featured Image: Donna Ida