Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

What Is a Ghetto Party, Anyway?

With my forehead crinkled and my pinkie nail between my teeth, my eyes shifted back and forth across the items hanging in my closet. Tugging a shirt out of the mangled mess, I examined it for a few moments, then sighed and dropped it onto the disheveled pile forming on my bed. Asked to go to a sorority-fraternity "ghetto party," I was supposed to find some "ghetto" clothes in the 20 minutes or so before my friend knocked on my door and we took the chilly walk over to Webster Avenue. But what is a "ghetto party" anyway? I'm still having a hard time understanding.

I closed my eyes and put my fingertips to my temples, as if it would somehow help me out, trying to envision a setting I could use as a basis for my 'costume.' And the scary thing is, it looked an awful lot like home. Big jeans, puffy vests, tight black skirts, basketball jerseys -- all stuff you'd see on a typical day on the seven train running through Queens. So, was I supposed to dress up like the kid who lives down the block from me? For fun? Or would my friend's neighborhood in Brooklyn be a more appropriate place to mimic? Yeah, I guess it's more than a little weird going from a place where people dress a certain way all the time to an environment where dressing up like my hometown friends on a Friday night becomes a laughable social event.

But wait. My neighborhood couldn't be a ghetto. So then I went back to the basics. What is a ghetto? The dictionary tells me it's an area of the city inhabited by many members of a minority group. Ah. Well, judging by the afro wigs and crimped hair at the party, it didn't make sense to question which minority group. So I was supposed to dress up like an African-American? I did a quick scan of the room and didn't really see any African-Americans around. Oh.

Hold on. I'm not done with the definition yet. Here's another one: a ghetto also refers to a group of people "restricted by economic pressure and social discrimination." So we're dressing up like those people? See, that's pretty confusing, too, because first of all, who says that people who dress a certain way are the disadvantaged ones? And if they are, it seems like an awfully heavy subject for the theme of a party. In the chilly weather, I considered finding a t-shirt with some holes in it and wearing it with a pair of jeans from last spring that don't fit me anymore to show the economic hardship. Then I remembered that it was for a party and that I was supposed to have a fun time. I don't think I would have had fun thinking about the economic needs shared by so many people across the country while I partied in a frat house at a beautiful Ivy League school, nicely tucked away from it all.

Well, it didn't matter because I didn't have fun anyway. And no one seemed to have socioeconomic matters on their minds as they complimented each other on their great outfits. Unless, by some extension, those who were "skankily" dressed wanted people to think about crack addiction or penniless single motherhood. Or maybe the toy handgun-toting members of the crowd wanted to bring armed robbery or the fear of attack to our minds. Unfortunately, I don't think the train of thought went far enough to reach reality or the why's and how's of that reality that are so crucial to uplifting it. I can't help thinking that Dartmouth students' creativity is better exercised trying to solve the problems that hurt people rather than coming up with clever outfits to mock them.

But even if thinking about nation-wide problems isn't your thing, well, what about Dartmouth? Before coming here, I had this great, romanticized picture of college as a place where I would be free from petty social constraints. I consider that freedom to be so valuable to discovering just who it is that I want to be, in terms of my interests, my friends, the way I want to dress. So is a "ghetto party" telling me to add onto the pile in the back left corner of my closet of the clothes that I'll wear at home but not here? Because the message I'm getting is that I can wear some things at Dartmouth but make fun of others. And if we live by these unwritten social rules, what happens when we graduate or leave campus, and we see someone dressed "ghetto?" Or even worse, what if such a sighting occurs on campus? What do we think? How can we objectively respect people if we spend our Friday nights at good ol' Dartmouth ridiculing them?

When I decided to move to Hanover from New York City, I got a lot of people asking me how I could go to a place that's so isolated, so "middle of nowhere." I always knew that physical distance separated Dartmouth from different settings, but I couldn't have suspected that our minds would follow along that path to isolation. The whole situation actually reminds me of the "tree in the woods falling and no one hearing it" question. If some kids at Dartmouth want to throw a party, and no one is around to provide a different perspective on it, are they still right?