To be fair, it wasn’t intentional. Well, not entirely intentional. Allow me to explain.
At my college, the Suites Around the World party was one of the most anticipated annual traditions. All of the recycling money collected from the student body’s empty cans and bottles (so obviously we’re talking serious $$$) gets redistributed to the students to buy more alcohol (in some sort of circle of life for alcoholics) for this international affair. About 10 suites in the dorm would volunteer to pick a country and serve customary booze and food. For example, Mexico would serve Tecate and tequila, Japan would serve Saki, and Germany would serve various German beers.
I should note that this is a progressive liberal arts school, so don’t equate it with those supposedly “cultural fraternity/sorority parties” that turn into black-face and offensive stereotypes that you read about in the news. Generally, the Asian exchange students would represent their home country, the Chicano students would host Mexico, and the white kids would do something boring like Australia or Ireland. Yes, the party was primarily an excuse to get drunk. I also won’t claim I “learned” much about the countries from these parties. And I won’t argue that nothing about the party was problematic, but I stress that it was about traveling to the different suites to taste the different spirits and foods, not put on costumes and do bad impressions.
My suite, however, did become super offensive… even though we were only trying to be semi-offensive. A month and a half before the party occurred we had to select a country, and we wanted to choose something funny. After searching a map, my suitemates Kurosh and Alice thought it would be amusing to pick Vatican City. It was approved by the school administration, and I was told by a friend on student council that the deans had chuckled at the idea.
A few weeks ahead of time, we received the recycling money and started preparing. We bought red wine for “Communion” and Sprite and vodka to mix as “Holy Water.” Our snacks were crackers, cookies, cheeses, breadcrumbs… anything that was small and round that could stand in as Communion wafers.
We made trips to the local Family Christian store and bought religious paraphernalia to hang on the walls. I printed out a poster-size photo of John Paul II. We dressed the mannequin up as a priest (though on his bottom half, he still wore a speedo – his signature attire). We put red curtains up over the shower stalls to turn them into confessionals. Alex rigged a sound system to play Gregorian chants in the bathroom. It was an amusing set up and we were psyched for the party.
A few days before the party, Alice announces, “Wait, did you guys hear that the Pope is sick?” There were questions about whether it was appropriate to have the party while he was seriously ill. But here’s something you have to remember about John Paul II: in his last several years, he was repeatedly “gravely” ill. I kind of figured they kept exaggerating that nonsense so it seemed miraculous each time he recovered. “He’s not going to die! He’s always supposed to die but he never does!” I argued. We continued putting the finishing touches on the party, all while keeping an eye on the news… just in case.
On the day of the party, the Pope did in fact die. As ironic as it was, the best we could muster was nervous laughter. We had been planning this party for six weeks, back when John Paul was still fine, but most people who attended wouldn’t realize that. There was a major crisis of conscience and we considered cancelling the party. Some tried to quickly formulate an alternative country for us to do. In the end, since everything was already decorated and purchased, we just decided to accept eternal damnation and move forward with the party. One friend wrote “In Loving Memory” over the Pope poster.
I know some people who boycotted our suite that night because they found it offensive. Others came in and toasted to the Pope. But, sadly, a lot of people who attended had no clue what was going on. College kids who live in a dorm aren’t necessarily aware of current events on a Saturday. I remember a conversation between two drunk girls who were holding on to each other for support: “Wait, didn’t the Pope die today?” “I don’t think so.” “Oh, okay.”
As if things weren’t disrespectful enough, by midnight things got pretty debaucherous. I can’t imagine the Pope would be too keen to see people grinding against each other as Missy Elliott played. The Communion wine was getting chugged. Some people (not me) started hooking up in the makeshift confessionals (okay, maybe me.) Even I had to do some Hail Marys when I spied someone do a line of cocaine to the echoes of the Gregorian chants.
Years later, I still think back and shake my head at the party that turned more tasteless than a Communion wafer. It’s the kind of party you would never get away with if you actually planned for it… so I appreciate the 11th hour Divine Intervention that helped turn our night into a tacky-fest. Y’all can judge us for going forward with the party anyway, but it’s not like we covered up chronic pedophilia, so let’s remember to keep the sinning in perspective, okay?