Looking Down on the 80’s Dance

Dana Walden, Opinion Columnist

At the 80’s dance, upperclass students were literally looking down on first-years. They played drinking games based on first-year actions. Two first-years leave together? Take a shot. Someone throws up? Take two shots. Someone passes out? You get the gist. Looking up, all I could see were watchful eyes and pointing fingers, and the 80’s dance quickly turned from a fun night out to a performance I was putting on for the audience above me.

When I arrived at the dance, which was held in the courtyard in front of Anderson, I couldn’t help but notice the mass of faces staring down at me from the halls of Prentiss. Actually, it was all I could notice. In recent years, it has become popular for students to host parties in the wings of Prentiss and spectate the 80’s dance from the comfort of their dorm rooms.

The 80’s dance is a quintessential part of Orientation, a first-year activity that has transformed into an unapologetically cringy Whitman tradition. Those of us who were not blackout drunk remember the mass of people screaming iconic pop songs from the top of their lungs, busting out their best worst moves and most of all, wearing horrifyingly bright, neon costumes. We were there to have fun, but the mood changed when we realized we were not alone.

Illustration by Sylvie Corwin

Instead of enjoying ourselves, my friends and I were fixated on the rooms around and above us. It’s hard to dance like nobody’s watching when someone is, in fact, watching. The whole point of the 80’s dance was to welcome first-years to Whitman, but there’s nothing remotely welcoming about upperclass students watching your every move. We felt isolated and objectified, like we were not really part of the Whitman community.

Judging first-year decisions for sport is unconscionable, something that should go without saying. We are not here as your entertainment; we are here as your peers. Whitman is a community. We pride ourselves on being friendly, open, and engaging; that’s what distinguishes Whitman from so many other institutions. Treating first-years as separate from the Whitman community is not what Whitties do. We can, and should, do better.  

When we treat first-years, or any other group on campus, as a spectacle, we are mimicking the kinds of social structures so many of us actively work to dismantle. It sounds cliche, but the purpose of the 80’s dance was to unify the first-year class with the rest of the student body. Creating shared experiences like the 80’s dance strengthens our bonds as a group and gives us all something in common. We need to work towards this sense of community, because once we leave Whitman, that is all we will have left of each other.

I know that creating this class division was unintentional. First-years are capable of making some pretty questionable choices, but so is everyone else. We all remember what a relief it was to finally let loose at the end of Orientation week; the next batch of first-years will be just as loud and just as flashy, as they should be. We need to afford them the same respect as the rest of the student body and use the experience we had this year to improve the 80’s dance next year.

There is nothing we can do to change what has already happened; we can only make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Next year will be better. I have faith that upperclass students will realize their role in perpetuating an unnecessary hierarchy, and will refrain from judging the next 80’s dance. Next year, we will be the kind of people that first-years will actually look up to.