It was the second weekend of the school year. Camp Yale was going strong, and rumors of the crackdown were flying. People were whispering. With Old Campus still crawling with parents, Yale police officers had arrived at a party in Vanderbilt Hall. “This year it’s gonna be different,” a cop told Tim O’Meara (DC ’00) as he ushered people out of the room. A few days later, when police appeared at McClellan Hall, a cop said, “We don’t want to have to do this, but we were told to crack down real hard the first month,” according to Nathan Vasquez (TC ’00). Students were getting carded at Viva’s. Rudy’s was also turning people away. Naples and Gecko’s were tightening their collars. Students were getting called on their fake ID’s.
There was talk of a party in the Boyd Swing Space where the underaged host was wasted on plastic-bottled Smirnoff and orange juice. He vomited repeatedly on his bed, mumbling about DUH and doctors. His friends called an ambulance.
A cop arrived with the ambulance. “First thing he asked was, ‘How is he?'” said Quinny Tan (DC ’01). “The next second, he asked if the host was 21, and who had bought the drinks.” The officer went on to explain that the police were now “taking action” against those who purchased alcohol for minors. “He told us there was a new policy and then interrogated us, one by one,” said Kyle Jarrow (SM ’01).
The pattern of the crackdown seemed to continue the next weekend at Davenport’s Cottage, a traditional party suite. Police arrived to break up a massive crowd that had gathered to hear the Sextones, a student band, perform. Rumors swirled around the campus quickly, suggesting that the police were overreacting to a party that, while huge in attendance, had a very relaxed atmosphere. When the cops told the band to stop playing, and announced that the party was over, the crowd yelled obscenities. Marc Hoffman (ES ’00) stepped up to the microphone to protest the forced ending of the party.
“He said, ‘Why’s the party over, ask them why!'” recalled Roberto Boneta (DC ’00), a bystander. Then the situation got ugly. Boneta and others maintain that the officer told Hoffman to “get the fuck off the mic.” Hoffman stepped away from the microphone and tried to discuss the situation with the officer, and, according to Boneta, the officer “pushed him hard.”
“The cop came towards me and I was between [Hoffman] and the cop. I said, ‘Officer, there’s no need for violence,’ and asked for his badge number,” Boneta said. The crowd, which had been watching the scene in shock, began shouting “Give us your badge number!” which further infuriated the officer. “He ripped my shirt and grabbed my arm. I raised my hands in the air and said, ‘I’m not doing anything.'” The officer then dragged Boneta, forcefully at first, to Davenport Dean Larry Lyke, who Boneta claims saw the entire incident. “The dean told me, ‘Don’t harass the officers.'”
“The cop was definitely out of line,” said Peter Eleey (TC ’00). Adam Seidman (ES ’00) claims that a police officer shoved him as well. Yale Police Chief James Perrotti says no formal complaints have been filed with the Yale Police, and according to his official report of the incident, there was no misconduct.
While most felt the majority of the officers were courteous and restrained in a tense situation, the incident left a sour taste in the mouths of those students who had witnessed the behavior of the officers. Many saw Seidman and Hoffman, who now face the prospect of an arrest warrant, as scapegoats for a raucous event. Executive Committee hearings are pending for the pair as well as several members of the band and the hosts of the party.
The origin of the perceived crackdown had its roots last fall, when a drunken crew recruit was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital. He told the police he had been served at Alpha Delta Phi’s FunnelFest, a celebration of gravity and beer. A few days later, Yale Police arrested the fraternity’s president.
Next to experience the pinch was Delta Kappa Epsilon’s (DKE) Feb Club-a month of nightly parties aimed at relieving winter malaise. Though officials denied that they had used the widely distributed list of events to target locations, fraternity brothers questioned whether the administration and police were playing by unwritten rules.
“They weren’t just shutting down parties, but shutting down the parties before the fact,” said Chris Ryan (BR ’99), vice-president of DKE. “Residential college masters were calling people into their offices and saying, ‘Do not have this party.'”
Then the administration came down hard on DKE sophomores Matt Manewal (BK ’00) and Anthony Coyne (BK ’00), who were caught with a keg by police responding to noise complaints. The pair faced ExComm for serving to minors. “They told us it was by their own good graces that they didn’t kick us out of school,” said Manewal. With the newly applied pressure, DKE, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and many other fraternities were having fewer large parties, carding at the door, issuing armbands, and using phrases like “risk management” along with keg and tap in their party planning.
University officials deny that there have been any official changes in policy. But this fall, it seemed that parties were under fire wherever one looked-on-campus, off-campus, in frats, in apartments, in courtyards. “Since I was a freshman, there’s been a step up in police activities,” said Blake Sando (BK ’99), president of SAE. “There’s much more liability.”
The increased pressure seemed to make sense in light of recent national events. In the last two years, alcohol-related fatalities have hit over a dozen schools across the nation, from MIT to Clarkson. But as the death toll rises, students aren’t getting the message. Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health report that more and more college students are drinking in excess. College campuses are reacting with unprecedented regulations. Fraternities and campus houses have tightened measures at MIT, for example, and at state schools around the country, where the police actually patrol the parties.
During Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg’s tenure, Yale has escaped tragedy, but the close calls make her uneasy. “We’ve had several cases this year where students were as close to death as they can be-0.3 alcohol level and over.”
t’s a common counterargument to the idea of a crackdown: the cops are more active at the beginning of the year, and as the partying dies down, their activity lessens. More likely than not, there has been no official change, but individual police officers are taking it upon themselves to send messages. With classes started and the parties slowing down, perhaps university officials felt there was no need for further warning.
But three weeks after the closing of the Davenport Cottage party, the breakup of an off-campus party suggested this assumption might not be correct. The party was called Crime and Punishment, held at 15 Edgewood Avenue. The cops arrived a little after one. The atmosphere was relaxed; the band was too loud. By 1:15 everyone had filed out to be greeted by 12 New Haven and Yale police cars.
Gary and Mark were among the first to leave the party. “I saw this cop get up from his car, and he dropped his shoulder and checked Gary-he laid into him,” Mark said. “I said, ‘What are you shoving me for?'” said Gary. “The cop replied, ‘Because I want you to get the fuck out of here.'” Gary moved on with the rest of the crowd, which was still exiting the party.
Moments later, Gary, Mark and Andrew Fisher (SM ’00) approached the officer. Mark asked politely for his name and badge number. “We were not confrontational,” said Fisher, “but [the officer] grabbed Mark’s arm, and waved the flashlight at us threateningly. He was swearing, real pissed. He yelled, ‘You wanna file a complaint? I’ll take you to my supervisor,’ sarcastically.”
“If my friend hadn’t been there to insist that he tell us, I was intimidated enough that I wouldn’t have persisted,” said Mark. “I intend to file a report.” Judy Mongillo, representative of the New Haven Police Department, said she has no information about the incident.
“A lot of students are complaining about being mistreated,” said Yale College Council President Zachary Kaufman (SY ’00) said. “I understand that the police have a job to do, but it seems their conduct should be investigated to make sure that they are operating within official police procedure.”
This sentiment is echoed by Julio Gonzalez (CC ’99), Alderman of New Haven’s Ward 1. “When you have vague standards, you have a selective enforcement,” he said. “Students have grown to believe that if it’s a private affair, signs [indicating the law] posted, and no disturbances, they are entitled to be left alone.” It’s what Gonzalez calls a “different culture of enforcement” that leads to the confusion, and the so-called mixed messages such as: How can the JE master’s house serve champagne to the public, they ask, while sophomores are put on probation for getting caught with a keg?
The reality is that both are acting with an implicit understanding of responsibility. Students may protest when the sophomores are punished, but this seems a petty price for a generous freedom. Yale is neither a boarding school, nor Chico State. En loco parentis-the doctrine of the university as protector-is alive and well, if sometimes misunderstood.
While the university usually looks away from students drinking alcohol in their rooms, it must periodically make an example of people. By choosing to serve underage students, hosts must accept that they may get caught, may be made responsible, and may face litigation. The parents of Scott Krueger, who died at MIT, are suing his fraternity. Sometimes, ExComm is the least of your worries.
It’s hard to reconcile a university crackdown with Yale’s alcohol-soaked history. In the 19th century, after all, rich Yalies were served beer by their butlers at breakfast. In the1970s and ’80s students drank beer almost exclusively-available at college-funded keg parties in the dining halls, no less-with little adult supervision. In the mid ’80s, Connecticut’s drinking age increased, and the law was changed to ban serving alcohol to minors. The University adopted massive regulations to protect against lawsuits, and the results were an end to dining hall bashes, a resurgence of fraternities, an increase in police attention, and a more active Executive Committee. However, those measures certainly didn’t eliminate traditions like Mory’s, Tap Night, and TANG.
“Another effect was that the drinking was driven underground,” said Associate Provost Lloyd Suttle, who was Dean of Student Affairs in the ’80s. “People started drinking the hard stuff.” Yale saw binge drinking become a lethal reality. Similar patterns followed around the country.
When William Bennett was the Master of Silliman College in the mid ’80s, he saw the rise of binge drinking. “They had these whiskey bars, where students would chug-a-lug 9, 10, 11 shots.” Bennett also witnessed Yale’s most recent alcohol tragedy, the death of Silliman student Ted McGuire in 1987.
McGuire began the evening at a SAC party in Saybrook. “Then he polished off a bottle of Tequila,” said Bennett. “His friends carried him up five floors and left him on the floor to sleep it off.” At 6:30 in the morning, someone noticed he had stopped breathing. Several hours later he was pronounced dead.
It’s frightening to discover how often such a tragedy is narrowly avoided. During this year’s Tap Night, on September 23, a crowd of drunken singing group members were partying in Branford. It was a splash of fun in an otherwise dreary evening, with Madonna pumping from the inside and singers trading Tap Night war stories in the Branford courtyard. In the middle of the party, a woman began complaining that she felt ill. Friends huddled around her, offering advice. She was blue, shivering, and occasionally vomiting.
“She was very sick, but I felt it wasn’t a good idea to call DUH-it would have turned into a disciplinary problem,” the host said. “Since it was my room, it would have gone into our files in the dean’s office.” Here, students finally had the privacy they had wanted, and none of the intrusion from the law that so many others had protested.
Gary and Mark are pseudonyms.
Eli Kintisch is not. Eli, a senior in Ezra Stiles College, is Associate Editor of TNJ.
This article first appeared in the April 24, 1998 issue of TNJ.