If you have gone to a Carleton College party and had a terrible time, there is nothing wrong with you.
Let me set the scene for you. A townhouse on a chilly Friday night. The smell of sweaty bodies lingering in the air. A rather aggressive strobing light illuminating the space. The warmth of about fifty bodies around you. A mediocre rap song playing way too loudly to allow conversation, but too quietly to get carried away by it.
You’re not alone if that induces nausea. After about 10 weekends on campus, I’ve had my fair share of that experience, and every time I walked down toward Division Street, I thought it would be different. Every single time, I was sorely disappointed.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions expecting the same result. In some ways, that was what I was doing with parties at Carleton College. I also happen to know that there are plenty of students of all grades who force themselves to go to parties for the sake of the “college experience.” While they perpetually have an awful time in a crowded townhouse living space, these students continually end up there on Saturday nights.
Why? Why do these students (myself included at one point) keep torturing themselves?
I think it’s because we want to belong. We want to have people who accept us at the end of a long week, when we’ve failed to accomplish everything we wanted to. We crave human connection: interesting conversations, meaningful interactions and positive stimulation. That’s, at least in part, why we chose to come to a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, I mean, Northfield, Minnesota.
It’s ironic that at Carleton College, a place that hammers into its students’ heads that they belong here, students feel like they have to try to fit in. Let’s face it, there’s a particular type of student who is admitted and chooses to come to Carleton. A Carl can be described by a lot of adjectives, but probably the most descriptive one is “quirky.” While some Carls hang their heads in shame when they’re called quirky, I believe we should wear that adjective with pride.
It means that we are splendidly unique. It means that our hearts are so full of passion for our interests that we cannot help but share what we know. It means that we are so curious about the world that we cannot help but ask questions. It means that we value humanity so much that we are kind to whomever we meet.
I don’t think that we are trying to fit into Carleton College society when we force ourselves to go to frat-like parties, but rather, the American cultural idea of what a typical college student is supposed to be like. A typical American college student has the perfect social and academic life balance. They “work hard, play hard.” They’re immersed in the night life culture of drugs, alcohol and romantic endeavors. College requires less hard work than high school did, and we’ll have the opportunity to make up for the time we lost in high school. We want our mothers to ask us how our weekend went, and we want to lie and say we stayed in, when actually, we went to an absolute rager.
Guess what? With nearly 5,000 different higher education institutions in the United States, there’s no such thing as a typical American college student. We cannot generalize the experiences of college students because every higher education institution and its accompanying students are unique. Yes, we are all incredibly similar and connected by our goal in getting a college degree, but we risk the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes when we forget each other’s differences.
It’s important to note that both the institution you attend and the individual that you are influence your experiences. You may attend a small liberal arts college known for its STEM programs but because of your interest in literature, choose to major in English and have an entirely different experience than a person who chose to major in computer science. Life is a choose-your-own-adventure book, but the choices available to you are in part a product of the circumstances you find yourself in.
When we try to be someone we are not, we run into all sorts of trouble. In my case, I find myself in a sweaty townhouse living space about to lose consciousness. The things I love about parties – the companionship, the food, the music, the dancing, etc.– simply are not found in the musty corners of a Carleton College-owned house built in the early 1900s. They’re found in a variety of other places at different times of the week, not just Friday or Saturday night. I used to beat myself up about how I wasn’t having fun on the weekend, but it turned out that I was having fun – on Monday nights at West Coast Swing Club or Thursday nights at Mock Trial. I am not saying that these are the only two options of having fun at Carleton, but perhaps instead of leaving all your fun-having for the weekend, maybe you can sprinkle it throughout your week, like the chocolate chips in an espresso chip muffin.
I get the need to let loose on the weekends and not study, but why are we acting like somebody we’re not? We, collectively and individually, need to accept that we are probably the nerdiest college campus in the United States, and we should allow our fun to reflect that.
So, if you’ve been to an awful party here at Carleton College, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with realizing that parties are not for you. It’s okay to spend a Friday night in your dorm, in the arboretum or in the study rooms of Anderson Hall.
Fun is subjective. You should have fun in a way that is true to yourself.