Over the course of the past two academic years, the college has taken steps to drastically change the on-campus social scene, especially with regards to student-planned events. We at the Phoenix believe that these policy changes have had a detrimental effect on the overall social scene at Swarthmore by directing most campus events to a limited number of spaces. We would encourage the Dean’s Office to rethink the current trajectory of their policy decisions and to invite more student feedback and participation in the policymaking process.
As the Class of 2018 arrived at Swarthmore, one of the first e-mails they received was from former Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Lilliana Rodriguez. In the email, Dean Rodriguez articulated several changes to the college’s drug and alcohol policy: the introduction of a medical amnesty policy, the prohibition of hard alcohol at registered campus parties of more than 30 individuals, and the prohibition of drinking paraphernalia. Because of these policy changes, and the ripple effects that the policy changes incurred on student groups’ ability to host large-scale events, social life at Swarthmore began to change. These ripples included the phasing out of the Social Affairs Committee, a vital resource for students to secure funding for student-run events and the increased involvement of the Office of Student Engagement in student affairs.
Many upperclassmen at the time lamented the policy changes as an institutional move to “regulate fun” at Swarthmore. The prominence of events organized by the fraternities and the OSE began to increase, while parties organized by other student groups in other spaces began to decline. Pub Nite’s future was placed on shaky ground as senior class officers struggled to obtain adequate amounts of funding and turned to a GoFundMe campaign to ensure the event’s survival. For better or for worse, these policy changes fundamentally altered the way that student events at Swarthmore are planned and run.
At the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year, Assistant Director of Student Activities, Leadership, and Greek Life, Mike Elias, left his position to pursue other career opportunities, and the Office of Student Engagement was forced to operate without a member of its core staff. Dean Rodriguez also left her position which remains vacant to this day, despite the fact that a search for her replacement is currently in progress. In addition, the absence of a third Residential Community Coordinator put even more strain on the already overtaxed office. The shortage of staff members who are deeply invested in student life has led to a lack of institutional support, which has allowed the shortcomings of the updated student event policies to continue to alter the social scene of the college. Currently, Greek-life-sponsored student events every weekend appear to be the norm for a Swarthmore weekend, while supplemental events held in Paces Cafe and Olde Club appear only sporadically. We at the Phoenix believe the reduction in number of locations and number of student organizations hosting student events on the weekend is detrimental to social life because it limits the diversity of social spaces and types of events on campus.
As the OSE began to rebuild its core staff with the hiring of Kyle Miller and Carl Starkey as interim Coordinators for Students Activities and Leadership, many hoped that the policies regarding student events on campus would change in a positive way, allowing for an increase in the number and diversity of events. However, there have been no such positive changes yet, which we deem a cause for concern.
We at the Phoenix do not believe that changes to the policies surrounding student events are beneficial to the student body; rather, they make it more difficult for diverse populations within the Swarthmore community to participate in the broader social environment of the college. The Office of Student Engagement and other members of the Dean’s Office would benefit immensely from rethinking these policy changes and including more feedback from the student body at large, instead of in focus groups, one-on-one conversations, and closed committees. Cooperation and open collaboration between students and college staff is essential in creating a social environment that benefits all parties involved.