September of my sophomore year at Columbia has just ended, and my weekend routine has been pretty consistent since September of my freshman year. On any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, my friends and I will briefly contemplate “going out.” We’ll consider going to one of the campus bars or showing up to a frat party or a party hosted by a student group. Occasionally, we’ll even talk about going downtown or to Brooklyn, to a club or party or concert, but then we’ll remember that we aren’t 21 yet and New York City nightlife is almost completely inaccessible to college kids who aren’t yet 21. We’ll actually go out maybe 40 percent of the time, and the rest of the time we’ll end up having a low-key night in someone’s room, playing video games and listening to music.
I actually prefer the latter type of night, because large parties, far from being “intimate” as Jordan Baker suggested in “The Great Gatsby,” are actually pretty intimidating for me. This is definitely my social awkwardness talking, but I’d much rather spend the night with a small group of close friends than in a tiny room with loud music packed with hundreds of well-dressed strangers.
If that last paragraph didn’t make it obvious enough, I don’t leave campus very often. It’s really sad, because I am lucky enough to live in one of the most interesting cities in the world. Basically every ethnic background and religion and political affiliation in existence has a presence in New York City, and there are lots of fascinating things happening here all the time. A big part of my decision to go to Columbia was the fact that living in New York is supposed to be incredibly enriching and educational, so I’m pretty upset with myself for not doing as much nightlife exploration as my more adventurous acquaintances. I feel like I’ve squandered a lot of my time at Columbia because I haven’t left campus very often, and I really want to change that.
The only problem with trying to get out of your comfort zone and explore the many nighttime activities the city has to offer is that very few clubs, parties, and events are open to people under the age of 21. Yes, Webster Hall has 19+ parties and 285 Kent in Brooklyn has all-ages shows, but these are exceptions to the rule. I’ve learned that if you want to go out in New York, you have to be 21—or have a convincing piece of laminated paper that says you’re 21. Maybe my staying on campus during the weekends isn’t so much a result of my own laziness or social awkwardness as it is a result of a lack of options. I’ll hear about something that sounds really fun, only to realize that that something is a 21+ event, and since my chances of getting past the bouncers are about 1 in 100,000, I’d be better off spending the night watching my friends play Mario Kart in someone’s dorm.
It’s upsetting because I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay in the city after graduation (realistically, I’ll be moving to wherever my job is located), and I won’t be 21 until October of my senior year. That means I’ll spend the next two and a half years of my life in one of the most exciting cities in the world and I’ll only get to experience the nightlife side of it between October and May of my senior year. Obviously, this isn’t an extremely pressing problem. However, I know a lot of other students are in the same frustrating boat, and I’m wondering what they’re doing about it. Does everyone under 21 who goes out have a fake (or one of those international IDs that seem to get you in everywhere), and does everyone else just sort of sit in their rooms all weekend? Or are there a lot of fun, underage-friendly parties and events going on downtown that I’m just not aware of?
Unless I decide to spend every weekend at 285 Kent or Webster Hall (which I very well may do), it’s likely that I’ll be staying on campus for a lot of weekends until I turn 21. And maybe that’s a good thing—Morningside Heights may not be the most exciting part of Manhattan, but spending the weekend on campus together may give Columbia students more of a sense of community. Maybe it’s an opportunity for us to spend more time together and to get to know each other better during the weekends. Or maybe it’s a total waste to be a young person in such an exciting city and never go to clubs or bars, and maybe campus is depressing on Saturday nights when you know that a significant portion of students are downtown actually enjoying themselves, and maybe the current drinking age is total bullshit. I haven’t decided.
Iman Fears is a Columbia College sophomore. Fears, Herself runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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