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Celebrating 50 years of Night of Decadence

NOD attendees party in the Acabowl, 2000. The party shifted from its explicit themes that year in response to the 1999 letter from the Will Rice College magisters. Courtesy Thresher Archives

By Lajward Zahra     10/24/23 11:27pm

While the atmosphere prior to Night of Decadence is always animated, this year’s energy is different: It will be the 50th anniversary of Rice’s arguably best known public. While event-goers look into grabbing hot pink outfits for this year’s “Cum on Barbie, let’s get NODy” theme, the Thresher will go over the history of the event.  

While themes were added to Night of Decadences in 1976, NOD started in 1972 when a group of Wiessmen poured all the alcohol they had on hand into a bathtub. A previous history of NOD article describes this as “a night of drunken debauchery” where “NOD was born.” Since 1976, themes like “Fall of Rome” (’76), Armageddon (1982), The Wizard of NOD (1999) and Viva Nod Vegas: Go All In (2010) have set the ambiance for the night. 

NOD underwent more changes after 1999. Will Rice College’s magisters at the time, Dale and Elise P. Sawyer, sent out a letter to then-Wiess College president Ethan Schultz regarding concerns over alcohol consumption and sexual assault. The letter was signed by the magisters from Lovett, Hanszen, Baker and Jones Colleges. 

“We hope that the students of Wiess College will carefully consider if it is a good idea to continue sponsoring this event,” the Sawyers wrote in the letter. 

The letter resulted in the formation of a Student Association committee that determined that safety changes were needed. These changes included stricter alcohol policies and the removal of decorations like “Sparky,” a papier-mâché phallus that existed as the unofficial mascot of the event — although Sparky will return for the 50th anniversary, according to the Wiess socials committee. 

In 2012, NOD underwent additional scrutiny when 11 students were hospitalized due to drinking complications, nine of whom were underage. In response, the Student Association created a student forum to discuss drinking culture on campus, and the dean of undergraduates at the time convened the Alcohol Policy Advisory Committee. Ultimately, restrictions on hard alcohol were added to the Rice Alcohol Policy, along with redefining private gatherings and a ban on drinking games involving hard alcohol. 

Former Wiess President Varun Kukunoor (’22) observed that the culture of NOD has changed over the course of its history. 

“50 years ago, the fun aspect was the most important part of it,” Kukunoor said. “Obviously, that’s still a very large part of it, but today Wiess takes a lot of pride and effort into making sure people explicitly feel comfortable, that there are resources available before NOD, after NOD and during NOD to make sure everyone knows that it’s a safe space to be.” 

America Salas, a member of the Wiess socials committee, attributed the changes in safety and atmosphere at NOD throughout the years to a generational shift in ideas about sex. 

“In the past, I know it was just a party about sex, but the mentality has shifted with our generation toward body positivity and sex positivity,” Salas, a Wiess junior, said. “I think it’s safer now. Compared to other publics, NOD has more caregivers and security, which has 40 slots per shift.”

Salas said the socials committee considered themes alluding to the 50th anniversary, but ultimately settled on “Cum on Barbie, let’s get NODy.” Salas said the Barbie theme is in line with NOD’s goals of body positivity.

“It is kind of hard to celebrate anniversaries when media and consumerism win,” Salas said. “Barbie is a great theme that goes along with body positivity. I just hope people don’t take it wrong and be misogynistic. It can definitely be interpreted that way, and that’s why we’re trying to make sure it’s not and focus on empowerment.” 

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