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Yeah! It's a Parlor Party


During a time when binge drinking on college campuses nationwide is more-or-less a given, a refreshing new program is gaining momentum at Swarthmore, as many students reject tipsy, trashed, or toxic in favor of fed, fun-filled, and safely friendly.

Assistant Director of Student Life Kelly Wilcox ’97 had been seeking to accommodate the needs of a number of students who were feeling uncomfortable at social events where alcohol is served. Last spring, after attending a conference on the role of alcohol on college campuses, Wilcox formed the Social Scene Advisory Committee, consisting of students representing campus social, religious, and athletic groups who were interested in organizing events that did not involve alcohol.

Supported by an anonymous gift, Wilcox and other staff members from the Office of Student Life initiated a program of social events last spring that, rather than using alcohol as a social ice-breaker, focuses on nonalcoholic activities while furthering relaxed interaction among students.

Students are encouraged to host themed events—often food-related—in Parrish Parlors. The “Parlor Parties” have revolved around chocolate (including a chocolate fountain), sushi-making, cookie-decorating, Mexican food, Korean ramen, and a pie-eating contest—the last of which drew a crowd of about 150 pie lovers and spectators. Other events have included Election Night and an Athletic Jersey-Wearing Night. The only stipulation, Wilcox says, is that themes must remain lighthearted—“no heavy issues.”

“Various groups can use this venue as a way to expose what they do in a low-key atmosphere,” she says. “It’s supposed to be fun. I really think that people come just to relax or even just to grab a bite to eat, so it’s great that many of the cultural groups are starting to serve their own food. The food is definitely a draw.”

Wilcox stresses that the goal of the program is not to detract from any of the other student-run social events on campus. “It’s more a case of increasing the options,” she says, adding that all kinds of students attend the Parlor Parties. “Some may be finally finding here the social group they’ve always longed for, i.e., nondrinkers; for others, this may be a kind of balancing-out of their social lives.”

Initially occurring on Friday evenings, the gatherings have been taking place twice a week—on Thursdays and Saturdays—since the fall, in response to increasing demand and in consideration of students’ religious or cultural obligations. With every Thursday and Saturday booked up through the spring semester 2009 and an average attendance of 75 to 150, the Parlor Parties are fast becoming a fixture of campus life.

“There’s definitely more going on socially here than just drinking,” says Wilcox.

—Carol Brévart-Demm

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