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Town, College Weigh Tubestock Changes

By Samuel Fisher | Sunday, August 5, 2007

Editor’s note: This article is being reprinted from the November 4, 2006 issue of The Dartmouth Review. It explains why Tubestock is now banned at the College.

Considering the lengthy history of the College, only a modicum of time has passed since revelers last cheered for their favorite leaper in Psi Upsilon’s Winter Carnival Keg Jumping Competition. As recently as a few decades ago, chariot races around the green were a staple of Green Key Weekend. Yet, one would be smart to wager that the average undergraduate strolling though Food Court could recount little of these failed traditions. Although the administration still allows students to celebrate Green Key every spring, and allows Psi Upsilon to transform their yard to a skating rink when the temperature falls, one cannot help but to feel nostalgic for the luster of such traditions before their taming, their refinement, their pithing.

Now, though, the forces that be have risen up again in attempt to make another Dartmouth tradition docile: Tubestock. Admittedly, Tubestock neither carries the history of Winter Carnival, nor the mysticism of Homecoming. It is a young tradition, but a special one. It is a time when the sophomore class can congregate under the mid-July sun and enjoy a few libations while floating in the slow summer current of the Connecticut River. Fortunately, the College administration has distanced itself from Tubestock since its inception, or this argument would have likely come years ago. Rather, the towns of Hanover and Norwich have always worked with the event’s organizers to ensure a lively and safe experience for all, and now the two towns have decided that the event has become too perilous to continue in its current form.

Students and local residents first celebrated Tubestock in 1986. Richard Akerboom ’80 Th ’82 organized and hosted the event at his estate in Norwich. Students and locals floated on the river below Akerboom’s deck, which held his band and overlooked the 200-person audience. Every year the event grew in popularity and size, and soon became an unofficial Sophomore Summer tradition. Akerboom played host to the mid-summer celebration until 2001, at which point he had to give up his responsibilities for liability reasons. Dartmouth students, however, were quick to the reins and moved Tubestock from Akerboom’s riverside residence to its current location off the boat-launch on the Vermont side of the Connecticut river a few hundred yards north of the Ledyard Bridge.

In an all too typical display of failed social engineering, the College sponsored a party on the same day as Tubestock in 2000 called “Summer Carnival.” The administration paid for several rides and inflatable attractions, and provided a good amount of free sustenance to carnival-goers. As one might have predicted, few Dartmouth students actually attended the event, although it was reportedly very popular with the families and young children of Hanover. In fact, the majority of Dartmouth students had strolled down Wheelock Street to the Connecticut River to celebrate a holiday they had anticipated since freshman year.

In the past few years, law enforcement officials from the Norwich and Hanover Police departments have worked with event organizers to ensure the safety of participants, while still allowing students to behave rowdily, shed swimwear, and publicly imbibe. Tubestock has never resulted in any deaths, and no major injuries or arrests have been reported in recent history. The event did generate a sizeable amount of rubbish both left on the Vermont bank of the river, and flotsam in the water itself. Although each Greek house designates one-third of its membership to cleaning up after Tubestock (the execution of which is oftentimes suspect), local residents were not pleased with the results.

After this year’s celebration, one Norwich resident had had enough of the littering and decided to take his woes to a higher authority. Warren Loomis ’62 Th ’63, who has been complaining about the post-Tubestock littering problem for at least four years, came before a Norwich town meeting on September 28 and formally registered his complaint concerning Tubestock. The minutes from the meeting read as follows:

Tubestock (Discussion). Loomis gave a brief history of what Tubestock is and when it started. Problems discussed were: (1) underage drinking, (2) litter, (3) traffic and (4) liability. Also discussed was the lack of Dartmouth College’s leadership role in this event and how to convince the College to do so. Sandra Hoeh, who is the Director of Community Relations for Dartmouth College, stated that she has met with the Greek Leadership Council and she is confident that the litter problem is being addressed. Loomis agreed to draft a letter for the Selectboard’s review to send to Dartmouth College. It was agreed that [former Norwich Chief of Police] Soares will try to set up a meeting with the Town Managers of Hanover and Norwich, the Chairs of the Hanover and Norwich Selectboards, the Police Chiefs of Hanover and Norwich and representatives of Dartmouth College.

In the weeks following the meeting, the towns of Hanover and Norwich drafted four goals for Tubestock. According to Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, the shared goals for Tubestock of the two towns are:

1) Insure that the very unsafe, under-age practice of alcohol consumption associated with this event is eliminated and that of-age alcohol consumption is greatly reduced, particularly given the significant increase in danger that results when alcohol and a large party are mixed in the river; 2) Insure that the full cost of policing the event (public safety personnel overtime incurred by Norwich and Hanover Police and NH State Marine Patrol) is absorbed by the sponsors and participants, and not by either of the towns or the State of New Hampshire; 3) Insure that a certificate of insurance is obtained by a sponsoring entity, naming both towns and the State as additional insured [parties] in the amount of $2.0 million (the standard requirement for all events in Hanover and which most communities across the country require). 4) Insure that neither the community nor the private neighbors immediately abutting this event assume any cost of post event clean-up. We simply cannot have what happened this past August happen again. Large amounts of debris/rafts were left on site after the event was over.

This list of goals was submitted to the 2008 Class Council, the Greek Leadership Committee, and to various staff members from the Coed, Fraternity, and Sorority division of the Office of Residential Life in order to foster a discussion between the two towns and the prospective planners of next year’s event. 2008 Class President Tess Reeder and Greek Leadership Committee Taylor Cornwall ’06 are currently working with former Tubestock planners in order to submit a proposal to the towns of Hanover and Norwich concerning the aforementioned goals.

The town of Hanover’s concerns can be divided into three broad categories: liability, cleanup, and safety. The students in charge of next year’s event should have no problem limiting the liability of the concerned parties, nor should they have any trouble creating incentives for participants to clean up the river after the event; they are smart and creative students. The real challenge will be appeasing the town with respect to safety, while still maintaining the spirit of the event.

Many options exist for Hanover and Norwich to make Tubestock safer without destroying its character. The first, and arguably most important, is helping the towns realize that drinking and Tubestock go hand-in-hand. Whether it is under-age, of-age, in public, in private, beer from a can, or vodka from a water bottle, drinking will not stop simply because a Norwich selectman decides it should. The police can regulate or even punish drinking on the river, but they cannot stop students from drinking in their dorms, or in Greek and off-campus houses. If law enforcement officers made the decision to forbid any alcohol consumption on the river, 400 party-goers would wake up at 9:00 AM on the third Saturday of July, start the morning off with a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa, and never look back. This, however, is probably not the intention of Hanover and Norwich, as it is hardly safer than monitoring what drinking does transpire on the river.

The towns of Hanover and Norwich will be heartened, though, by the fact that Reeder and Cornwall are coming up with other innovative ideas for making Tubestock safer, without stepping on the toes of rampant partygoers. They suggest that rather than have each Greek house appoint two sober monitors to wear red hats and ostensibly act as a voice of reason (in the past both the sobriety and the reason of these appointed individuals was debatable), Greek Houses should instead compensate students who choose to remain sober and help law enforcement maintain order. This way non-Greek students or teetotalers could help monitor the party, and then walk away from the river with a little change in their pocket.

Improved construction of the fraternity rafts could also improve the safety of Tubestock without limiting the actions of pleasure seekers on the water. The elimination of rusty nails, loose joints and rickety super-structures would do much to improve the event’s safety. Ms. Reeder suggested that fraternities work with students from Thayer Engineering School to build sturdy floats capable of supporting rambunctious bodies. Paid sober monitors and well-built rafts are examples of the type of ideas we should expect from student leadership: low-cost, effective, and minimally invasive.

Dartmouth students should expect a more concrete agreement between Norwich, Hanover and the organizers of Tubestock by the middle of winter term. While the Tubestock we love is not yet lost, it is most certainly endangered. Student leaders are confronted with the rare opportunity of preserving a tradition cherished by thousands of Dartmouth students who came before them, and anticipated by many more who have not yet had their chance to experience it.