With the inaugural new Tailgate Sept.15, Duke students will have somewhere to be again on fall Saturday afternoons.
Following the abrupt cancellation of Tailgate two years ago and the tepid enthusiasm generated by last year’s Football Gameday, Duke Student Government should be commended for resurrecting the event. Administrators preoccupied with liability and safety had little appetite for reviving Tailgate, and its revival, even in its tamer form on the Main Quad, required intense negotiations with a variety of stakeholders.
DSG has heard student opinions and done their best to incorporate them. A student DJ will provide centralized music to foster a fun, friendly atmosphere—a notable concession from the administration. Providing space and grills for groups to barbecue could engender the type of communal experience students felt Gameday lacked.
Yet while New Tailgate is shaping up to be a safe and sustainable event, whether it will actually achieve widespread popularity depends on whether student groups register space and students attend—conditions that seem doubtful in the short-term, but likelier in the long-term.
The re-emergence of tailgate coincides with a reshuffling of student groups. With some fraternities that previously sustained the old Tailgate now housed on Central Campus, these groups may prefer the option of gathering at their own sections. On the other hand, new unaffiliated houses are perhaps not lively enough social entities to breathe life into new Tailgate. Non-residential groups may not have funds earmarked for social events, and random groups of friends cannot band together to reserve space. Especially for freshmen and unaffiliated seniors living off-campus, it is still unclear the type of tailgate in which the groups will engage.
Further, disciplinary issues may give pause to students and student groups alike. While the student-run tailgate team will have some system for evaluating registered groups, administrators and Duke University Police Department will also be present at events. If a policy violation occurs, especially involving alcohol, the consequences will likely be severe. The balance between self-policing and administration-applied discipline, which is yet to be fully determined, will affect student participation.
For upperclassmen still clinging to their fond memories of beer-drenched tailgates past, this event will not satisfy. DSG has done the best they can in imagining and establishing this event in a post-Porta Potty world, a world that prioritizes considerations of student safety and university liability over an unregulated and dangerous intoxication. The most forgotten fact in the debate over old Tailgate’s cancellation is that a 14-year-old nearly died from alcohol poisoning. Expecting the university to assume liability for an event like that—especially in the aftermath of a death at the Harvard-Yale tailgate—is unreasonable.
Right now, the controversy over tailgate and the failure of Football Gameday preclude any real alignment of student and administrative visions for this event—a gap that will persist until both student attachment to old Tailgate and administrative paranoia abate. We believe the new event represents a solid attempt given the short hand DSG has been dealt. However, the new tailgate’s ultimate success will be determined by what students do with it—whether they choose complain or engage, avoid or attend.