On Winter Ball

By Jens Tamang

Before I begin enumerating the various ethical conundrums of Winter Ball I would like to take a moment to recognize Sarah Meuller’s arch rebuttal to my previous installment, in which I criticized-among other things-her sex column. I don’t feel as though I need to defend myself against any of the claims she lodged against me, but I will say this: prescription is far more pernicious than diagnosis, which is why I don’t do it. Now on to Winter Ball.


Last Saturday an intoxicated mob of students huddled around shuttle buses running to the Epic nightclub, pushing each other violently in order to board. One could have stood back and observed, as I did, or one might have chosen to join the throng, but then one might have their head smashed up against the fender.

This is what I saw: people falling in the snow, having been pushed; inappropriate remarks about the Alabama bus boycott; people snapping their gum at each other as if their plan of action was the best; and a myriad purple toes sticking out of the open-toed shoes of so many girls who could not reach down to rub for fear of being trampled.

Perhaps the most alarming instance of debauchery occurred when I heard a girl saying that she was claustrophobic. She tried to alert those around her that she was having trouble breathing, and that-amongst the throng of people who could not, or perhaps would not, hear her-she was falling to the pavement.

It’s extremely paradoxical to me that the student body can drum up this kind of collective energy for the prom, but when it comes to matters of civil disobedience for the purpose of activism, we would rather reserve our critical powers for the classroom.

There will undoubtedly be those who will hold the Program Board, as well as the administration at large, accountable for their poor planning of the event. There will also be those who hold the students accountable for their juvenile behavior (as full well we should be). But to hold either group accountable in isolation would be misguided.

So, who’s to blame? In order to answer this question I must start by asking why the student body would behave this way in the face of frustration, and the most blaringly obvious answer to me seems to be that Macalester students can’t hold their liquor. This, of course, is not their fault. Having been raised in a country with a backwards apparatus for alcohol regulation, we make the same adolescent mistakes at 21 that someone in France would make at 16.
What is more, the federally mandated preference for alcohol over any other substance sanctions (if not praises) the desire to get absolutely hammered. That is to say that if everyone had simply taken a hit off a fatty-J then the aggressive would have calmed, the anxious would have been eased, and the overly intoxicated would have either fallen ill or gotten the munchies.
My objective here is not to absolve each student of their responsibility over their behavior, but rather to highlight the institutional apparatuses that create the kind of circumstances that might make debauchery a default. Not an option, a default. We are, after all, a community and we don’t have to act “civilly” towards one another (and in fact to do so would do a disservice to our ability to challenge the beliefs of our peers), but we should, in the very least, make an honest effort to not cause each other physical harm, particularly when it is non-consensual.

Any critical look at the debauchery of Winter Ball must then ask what kind of institutional apparatus leads a student to throw his sense of reason by the curb in order to manhandle their way onto a school bus. The question is not one of ethics, per se, but one of how ethics become embraced by students through a higher power.

In this way, the events of last Saturday are a symptom of the crisis of private property. We pay good money to go to this school, that will in turn pay good money to rent out a nightclub and buses for our insular use as a means of “entertainment.” The violence of this moment, loading onto shuttle buses, stems directly from our bourgeois sense of entitlement to space, time, and leisure.

In a school that drains me of my intellectual capacity, then throws me a bone in the form of Winter Ball, I almost feel as though abstaining from collective leisure is not an option. In fact, because there are so few instances of communal bonding wherein the responsible consumption of substances is fostered, I almost feel as though getting tipsy won’t “do the trick.” And so, one must walk to the edge of alcohol poisoning in order to “relax” from a strenuous week of finals.

Of course we have a responsibility to teach each other-through example as well as trial-and-error-how to party. However, I have only ever seen this pedagogical maneuver successfully executed on the intimate level. (Even large parties reproduce entitlement.)

When it comes to leisure en masse, the responsibility falls upon the school to provide realistic, and therefore useful, models of consumption. So long as our “leftist” administration focuses its efforts on increasing the endowment (a word that has becomes synonymous with “rank”) it must own up to the crime of indoctrinating its students into the sober ethos of private property.

I know many students who would gladly give up infrastructural extravagancies, like The Leonard Center (Step Forward’s phallic extension), for a few moments of communal bonding.