Spring semester begins with below freezing temperatures and overcast skies. Students seem to hibernate through the first half of the semester, and the campus feels like a vacant lot. Spring break comes and goes, making way for the stressful final push of the semester. For nearly 90 years, Carnival has been the saving grace of spring semester.
But the feel of Carnival doesn?t seem quite the same as it was at its peak, as conveyed by old issues of The Tartan?s Spring Carnival special edition. Frankly, some of the most negative aspects of our community express themselves in our present Spring Carnival.
The celebration was born as Class Day in 1914, and was a merger of separate programs from each of the four colleges of Carnegie Institute. The day included a ?Band Concert, ?Spreads,? Three Performances, and a Decorated Campus,? as announced on the front page of the June 11, 1914, issue of The Tartan.
In 1919, Class Day was expanded into Campus Week, a long-weekend event resembling today?s festivities. In 1920, the Campus Week committees ran ?an extensive advertising campaign? throughout the whole of Pittsburgh.
Nine years later, the event was failing again; in 1928, local police raided dorms to quell widespread disorderly conduct. President Baker cancelled the celebration, and Campus Week 1929 was nothing more than Sweepstakes. But after the market crash in October, the administration considered proposals for restoring Campus Week for the sake of campus morale. With the consent of the administration, Carnival was given its familiar name in May 1930, ironically during Prohibition. Drinking was already manifesting itself as a problem and The Tartan editorialized to remind students that sobriety would be necessary for retaining the event.
Carnival changed little over the next 25 years: Sweepstakes and a float parade anchored the events, except during World War II when materials were at a premium. The format was so ingrained that there was campus outcry at the elimination of the float parade after 1954 as it was replaced by small frame structures immediately nicknamed ?booths.? Booth, as it came to be called, was more popular than campus expected, but by 1968 this new format was again stale, and students filed complaints that Carnival was no longer a meaningful part of campus life.
The next year Carnival came back strong, with mass campus-wide planning and new emphasis on intricacies. This effort in spring 1969 has grown into the current mindset of Carnival. But the spirit of the 1969 Carnival is nowhere to be seen today.
Once a light-hearted change of pace, marked by genuine enthusiasm for innovation, Carnival is now marked by spendthrift competitiveness and an unhealthy enthusiasm for intoxication.
Every day, CMU students, with ever-growing course loads, battle for the highest scores in hopes of beating everyone else for the top-paying entry-level job. As it is, Carnival is more of the same. Booth-builders spend a full week and tens of thousands of dollars to beat out other teams. On move-on night, members of some teams cheered as half of AEPi?s booth collapsed to the ground.
All the while, too many students consume inordinate amounts of alcohol as a means of further escape. Too many fraternities have already been given warnings ? or the boot ? for alcohol violations. It is not unreasonable to worry that, between the quad and Beeler Street, we may be heading in the direction of the late 1920s. Rather than letting Carnival continue to degenerate, next year let us remember Carnival?s history and restore the enthusiasm and creativity that has been the foundation of its most successful years.