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ISSUE 119 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/5/2006

Oles voted off Carleton island

By Kathryn Sederberg
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 5, 2006

If you've ever been to a party at Carleton, chances are pretty good that you have been to a Wednesday night island party. On the island, hidden in the middle of campus, students cross over a bridge to a party wonderland: beer, tiki torches, a bonfire, music and lots and lots of people.

What Oles call “the island” Carls call “Mai Fete.” The name of the island dates back to the traditional dance pageants held there in the early 1900s. A traditional May pageant continued to be an annual event, complete with the crowning of a “May Queen,” until the late ‘50s when students wanted something a little less conventional.

Today, the island is famous for its kegs and bonfires held weekly during Carleton's spring term. Most St. Olaf students are unaware of the Carleton traditions surrounding this event.

Students have been having bonfires on Mai Fete since the 1920s, although the nature of the party has changed in the last 80 years. Today, groups of senior friends reserve the island, get donations from their fellow students, buy kegs and decorate the island.

Carleton senior Jane Larson guarded the bridge last Wednesday, May 26. She was making sure only Carleton students entered the party.

“It's not a good idea to have St. Olaf students unless they're with somebody they know from Carleton” Larson said. She expressed worries about Campus Security (their version of Public Safety) and the Northfield Police breaking up the parties if there is too much traffic from taxis and cars driving over to Carleton's campus. “We're getting in trouble for it and it would be sad to see [the parties] get shut down” Larson said.

Today, many Carls are frustrated by the number of Oles in attendance. Carleton senior Paddy Foran explained what Mai Fete means: “It's a party hosted by seniors. We invite underclassmen to be part of Carleton.” He was frustrated by “Oles taking [their] beer,” but emphasized that he does not hate St. Olaf students – it is just Carleton tradition for Carleton students.

If it's not hate, could it be love? Andrew Wold '08 said he comes every Wednesday. “We just join in,” he said. “[Carls] know we're from St. Olaf and they enjoy us being here.” His friend, Ryan Nash '08, added that it's a sign of “intercollegiate love.”

Carleton sophomore Jason Hitchcock described how Oles stick out: “Oles are incredibly easy to spot. Everybody at Carleton knows everybody at Carleton.” He worried about the parties being shut down earlier if more Oles attend and agreed with shutting them out at the bridge.

Other Carleton students like sophomore Ross Palash and freshman Teagan Walter are more indifferent. Palash likes the atmosphere and Walter said, “It's more fun with more people.” He doesn't understand the St. Olaf versus Carleton animosity.

Reserving the island is like scheduling the use of any other room on campus. The dean of the College's website has a list of locations and facilities that may be scheduled, including “Mai Fete Island.” Carleton's Campus Activities office handles reservations of Mai Fete Island.

To reserve the island, students must talk to Robin Hart Ruthenbeck, Carleton's director of Campus Activities. Students register with her and sign a registration form, thereby agreeing to certain rules and regulations.

“One of the challenges is that Mai Fete in its history has been hosted by seniors for seniors. It is a weeknight event and was never intended to be a large party,” Hart Ruthenbeck said. “[There are] a lot of misperceptions right now about the tradition.” Ideally, it is an event for the members of the senior class to spend time together during their last term before they graduate. They are allowed to invite underclassmen friends, but it does make the party very different.

Hart Ruthenbeck also stressed that the Wednesday Mai Fete parties are not open to everyone. Because it is a public, easily-accessible venue, it is difficult to control but no non-Carls should be on the island unless they are coming with Carleton friends. She also stressed that there has been no change or shift in policy. “We have the same registration process, the same regulations,” Hart Ruthbeck said.

There is no such thing as “free beer,” yet many Oles don't know how the kegs are funded. Student groups hosting the event get donations from seniors and other Carleton students. As part of the general procedure, no money may be collected during the event (for example, by selling cups). This makes it almost impossible for St. Olaf students to contribute and re-emphasizes the fact that the parties are only intended for Carleton seniors and their friends.

Despite rigid screenings at the bridge entrance to the island last week, there were some St. Olaf students in the crowd. Two freshmen, who prefer to remain anonymous, said they have already been to Mai Fete two or three times: “It's more relaxed than St. Olaf. Carleton parties are pretty chilled out and where else do you party on Wednesday night?”

St. Olaf policy prohibits alcohol on school grounds, but Carleton's policy follows state regulations: If you're of legal drinking age, you may drink. Carleton does prohibit drinking in public, except at registered events. The Mai Fete registration process “suggests a carding system,” but past parties have not had such a system in place. Other rules state that no more than two kegs may be purchased and alternative food and beverages must be provided.

Around 11:15 p.m. Carleton's Campus Security showed up and made its presence known by shining lights onto the island. Night officer Jim Bushey explained that the party is supposed to be over at 11 p.m. because of Carleton's weekday quiet hours.

“If more people are coming onto the island than are coming off, we make our presence known. We don't want to cause trouble,” Bushey said. Security lets Carleton students break up the party on their own. If nothing is done, however, they will call the Northfield Police. “It's a nice tradition,” Bushey said. He also hopes the weekly gatherings will continue.

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