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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

“Screw your teammate” parties often packed with pressure for dates

“Screw your teammate” parties, colloquially known as “SYTs” or “screws,” are a staple of weekend nightlife at Middlebury. Envisioned as a fun, exciting way to meet someone new and get dressed up on a Saturday night, SYTs are popular among sports teams, social houses and other extracurricular groups. But a closer look at the SYT tradition reveals an underlying culture that can be coercive and filled with pressures, especially for younger female students.

SYT guidelines dictate that each team member chooses a date for their teammate. Sometimes teammates set each other up with dates they’ve never met before, but match makers will often coordinate with their assigned teammates, who might already have a “Proc crush” or desired significant other in mind.

When guests arrive at an SYT — which usually takes place in a social house basement, or a teammate’s townhouse or Atwater suite — they are attached at the wrist to their dates by layers of duct tape. Each pair is also usually taped to a bottle of champagne, and is encouraged to finish the bottle before being separated.

Part of the appeal of an SYT is meeting new people. But students say entering a team, club or social house’s space as an outsider often adds a stressful side to these events.

“I felt a bit out of place,” said Nate MacDonald ’23, who was recently someone’s date at a sports team’s SYT. “I didn’t know anyone on the team, and teammates all appeared to have their well established friend circles.”

Past that initial uneasiness, however, MacDonald said he enjoyed connecting with the members of the team.

“Once I settled into this setting and began socializing with people, I felt more comfortable being there,” MacDonald said. “My date and her friends who I interacted with were very open and welcoming … The vibe revolved around dancing, playing drinking games, and socializing.”

Ruhi Kamdar ’22, a member of the women’s tennis team, agreed that the SYT party environment poses an exciting opportunity to interact with new students. But she said the process of attending SYTs with strangers and subsequently being duct-taped to them can feel like a double-edged sword.

“It’s fun and different because it gives you a chance to interact with a person you may be too shy to get to know,” she said. “However, it puts a lot of pressure on you to hook up with a date, as it’s like a special event of some sort.”

According to Julia Fairbank ’23, a member of Middlebury’s club sailing team, one key to a successful, safe SYT is knowing where you stand with your date before the party begins. Fairbank said that in the past she has declined SYT invitations from anonymous athletes because she did not know her date.

“The screws and formals I went to were with guys I was either really close to, or was seeing,” she said.

Though Fairbank and her friends were invited to several SYTs throughout their first years, she expects they will receive fewer invitations in the future. Why? Because, she suggested, older athletes seem to target younger female students when choosing dates for formals.

“I think there are going to be a lot fewer random invites for me and my friends in the coming years,” Fairbank noted. “Most screws and formals feel definitely very aimed at freshman girls as dates.”

The question of ethics of pairing upperclassmen guys with younger freshmen girls for date parties was raised in the Opinions pages in The Campus three years ago, by Esme Valette ’16. In her op-ed, “Leave Your Attitudes at Home,” Valette wrote about her disgust at receiving a lewd invitation from senior men in the class of 2014, informing younger female invitees that they had been “selected” as dates for a “Hunter and the Hunted Party.” Men were to be dressed as hunters, while women were asked to dress like wild animals and “leave [their] attitudes at home.”

But some suggest that the disproportionate number of invites extended to first-year women might be an accident. Cole Crider ’23, a member of both the baseball and football teams, said this dynamic may instead result from the spectrum of class years on the team.

“This comes from the underclassmen sometimes choosing dates for the people older than them, and also vice versa,” Crider explained.

Crider — who has experienced both the choose-your-own date and “blind invite” models of SYT invitation — said that most male athletes who select younger female dates for their teammates are not ill-intentioned.

When asked about the hook-up culture at team SYTs, Crider said that the only pressure he perceived was that he be a fun date.

“I feel like the only pressure I experienced was from having a date who came to the SYT with you, because you liked something about them and you enjoy spending time around them,” Crider said.

Catherine Blazye ’20, a member of the women’s tennis team, said she thinks the culture of the team or group hosting a gathering can often determine how women are treated at these parties. She also said Middlebury’s hook-up culture is to blame for expectations that dates will hook up with the team members who invited them. 

“When I was a freshman I remember being really sad that my date didn’t like me,” Blazye said. “I was like, ‘What’s wrong with me,’ which I think is the toxic culture surrounding SYTs. I think people sometimes big it up a lot as an event to get with someone you think is super cute.”

Instead, she said, we should consider the SYT an opportunity to connect with new people and to bond with teammates. 

“I still think it’s a great chance to meet someone different or just have fun with someone for a night playing pong and socializing,” she said. “It should be portrayed as a fun date party with all of your teammates — as I have got older this is what I have realized.”

Brinlea La Barge

Brinlea La Barge '23 is the senior news editor. 

She previously served as news editor and sports editor.  La Barge studies English and Linguistics at Middlebury and is a peer writing tutor and captain of the women's tennis team.

She spent the summer of 2022 as a communications intern for the Josh Shapiro for Governor campaign, and previously worked for Nantucket Magazine and WHYY, Philadelphia's local PBS and NPR affiliate.