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‘You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes’: Students react to canceled publics, Pub restrictions


William Liu / Thresher

By Riya Misra     11/8/23 12:54am

Following the Night of Decadence, which saw seven hospital transports and over 24 students requiring on-site medical treatment, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman announced changes to Rice’s parties and social events. Public parties are canceled through spring break, Pub nights are limited to students 21 and older and NOD is placed on “probation,” Gorman wrote Nov. 2.   

Response to publics pause

In response to the new restrictions, several college socials heads released an open letter Nov. 5 advocating for the reinstatement of publics in the spring with attendance limited to only juniors and seniors. 

Tori Carneiro Zhu, a socials head for Architectronica, said this letter was circulated in hopes of reaching a fair compromise for upperclassmen, who’ve missed more social events at Rice over the past few years due to COVID-19 restrictions. 2022-2023 was the first full year of publics and a wet campus since before COVID.

Brooke Nguyen, a socials head and senior at Will Rice College, said despite feeling “blindsided” by Gorman’s announcement, she hopes Risky Business — which was set for the spring — could happen under the restricted guidelines outlined in the open letter.

“We’re not saying that underclassmen are the reason publics are banned, but more so we don’t think it’s fair to the upperclassmen who have already missed out on stuff because of COVID,” Carneiro Zhu said. “[Seniors] don’t get the opportunity to experience what Rice sells to you.”

Between pandemic restrictions, online classes and even the closure of the Academic Quad, Baker College senior Rose Whitt said that seniors have repeatedly received the short end of the stick at Rice.

“The part that angers me about Dean Gorman’s [announcement] is solely from a senior perspective of watching us get our hopes up, only to get fucked over,” Whitt said. “I literally had online classes through junior year, so we’re used to disappointment after disappointment.”

Even new students say they feel the sting of the announcement. Residential college culture was a large reason why Martel College freshman Audrey Witherspoon chose Rice — halting publics, she said, was a disappointment.

“Since Rice is so based around residential colleges, there’s not many times where everyone in the entire university [comes] together,” Witherspoon said. “I think publics are a fun way to meet people … and that’s important to do [in] your freshman year.”

Despite her frustrations at losing more of her college experience, Whitt said the new restrictions were a reasonable reaction to students.

“I’m kind of disappointed in the students more than [Gorman] just because I feel like Rice already gives us a mile … and we took five,” Whitt said. “You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes, as Taylor Swift said. And that’s exactly what we did. We fucked up and Dean Gorman’s our mother and she’s punishing us, and we kind of deserve it. We’re grounded.”

Whitt attributed some of the student behavior, including overdrinking, to a decline in respect for authority. Being at Rice in 2020, Whitt said, made her and the rest of the senior class more cautious — something younger students perhaps have yet to learn.

“I feel like within the last two years, there’s just been a major dip in respect and kind of [fear] of authority. You should be kind of scared,” Whitt said. “[Seniors] were terrified, obviously, because of COVID. You have someone in your room, and it’s on your permanent record … We had to be in complete secret for the first year and a half that we drank. You would rather sleep under someone’s bed drunk than be seen leaving.”

Carneiro Zhu echoed a similar sentiment about overdrinking, which is reflected in the open letter she co-wrote. The open letter reminds students that Rice Emergency Medical Services should be a safety net, not a crutch.

“You shouldn’t be thinking, ‘I can drink as much as I want because REMS will be there,’” Carneiro Zhu said. “It’s more, ‘If I am testing my limits and I push it too much, at least I know I’ll be safe.’ But I think sometimes we abuse the resources that we have a little bit.”

Kush Mangla, a Sid Richardson College junior, said his social life will be relatively unscathed by losing publics.

“When we go to publics, I generally try to go with all my friends because that’s what I enjoy the most … I don’t think alcohol has anything to do with that. It’s just that we’re all together in one place,” Mangla said. “With publics being canceled, the only thing that changes [is where we hang out]. We’ll spend [that night] at someone’s house or dorm, and we’ll just chill and watch a movie.”

The cancelation of publics, Whitt added, isn’t a pause on social life entirely. Rather, Whitt said this is an opportunity for students to host more private parties, learn their limits and take care of each other.

“The fact that [Gorman] didn’t make [campus] dry, I consider that a cool mom move,” Whitt said. “This is more of her saying, ‘You can hang out with your friends, but you can’t throw a party at my house.’”

Age limits on Pub

In her message to campus, Gorman cited an overall rise in “pre-gaming” culture among the student body, which she said has led to an increase in transports and students receiving care from REMS. Natalie Pellette, the general manager of Pub, said she’s noticed a similar trend at Pub this past semester.

“We haven’t had issues every week, but we’ve had definitely an increase in the number of overdrinking cases … that result in REMS or ambulance transports,” Pellette said. “It hasn’t been as severe at Pub … but definitely all the issues that have happened at publics have happened at a smaller scale at Pub.”

Pellette says that the new age restrictions on Pub will place barriers on Pub’s attendance, preventing younger students from entering on Thursday nights. To compensate, Pellette says Pub staff are brainstorming new marketing strategies to appeal to a significantly smaller demographic. 

“The attitude of Pub is always that it’s an inclusive but safe place for everybody to gather and spend time with one another,” Pellette said. “Obviously, limiting more than half of the undergraduate student body puts an additional obstacle in the way of including everyone.”

Just a few hours after Gorman’s announcement, the Rice South Asian Society was slated to host Desi Pub, an annual event co-hosted with Pub. In light of the newly imposed age restrictions, Rice SAS co-presidents Kaylah Patel and Samir Walji said they chose to relocate the event to Lyle’s for the night.

Patel, a Hanszen College junior, and Walji, a Lovett College junior, said they were in contact with Pub management throughout the week, aware of a potential age restriction. 

“We really wanted all the freshmen, sophomores, juniors [and] everyone to be able to come,” Walji said. “Even though it’d [have been] so much fun to have it at Pub, just for the benefit of the whole group we thought it’d be better for [Desi Pub] to be somewhere where everyone could celebrate.”

“A trend that we’ve been noticing is with each matriculating year, we have so many more South Asians on campus,” Patel added. “We know that Desi Pub was a really big thing that the freshmen were looking forward to … and we wanted to put the demographics of our members first before anything.”

Diego Garcia, a Wiess College freshman, said he thinks Rice SAS’s decision to relocate from Pub will be the first of many. Despite the new age limitations, Garcia said he disagrees with general sentiment towards how freshmen drink.

“A lot of us freshmen didn’t appreciate how the blame was pinned mostly on us,” Garcia said. “Being freshmen, people assume that we’re more immature and more inexperienced and we tend to overdo it. I feel like that’s just a pretty general stereotype towards freshmen.”

Maria Morkas contributed to this reporting.

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