During this year’s first party weekend, known as “Disorientation,” five college students were hospitalized due to intoxication and cited for underage drinking. In addition, according to Public Safety director Mike Hill, four other alcohol-related incidents occurred on the night of, Sept. 3. The number of alcohol-related incidents during the annual Disorientation weekend has risen from four in 2012 to nine in 2017, an increase of five over five years.
The college has a medical amnesty policy in place that states that “neither the student in need nor the student or student organization requesting assistance will ordinarily be subject to disciplinary action” for a violation of the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) policy.
“This policy is specifically intended to support getting students to call for help,” Hill said in an email.
However, under Pennsylvania state law, any student transported to the hospital in an ambulance will automatically be cited for underage drinking, a charge that typically requires completing 30 hours of community service, paying a fine of $150 to $750, taking alcohol education classes, and complying with a 60-day driver’s license suspension. The charge will remain visible on a background check and cannot be expunged without going before a judge.
Many students have related recent increases in alcohol-related incidents to policy banning hard liquor from registered parties, which was enacted in 2014. Tyrone Clay ’18, who attended an 80-person pregame on Sept. 9, feels that the rule has caused drinking at the college has become more dangerous.
“The heavy pregame culture is directly related to hard liquor rule,” Clay said. “You can overdo it and end up too drunk.”
Clay feels that AOD policies and recent incidents reflect a “crisis of culture” in the college community.
“It’s very difficult to be both intellectually driven yet expected not to have fun in a traditional way,” he said.
According to Josh Ellow, the college’s AOD counselor, the ban of hard liquor at parties exists to slow down consumption of alcohol, because the act of drinking beer takes longer than downing a shot or sucking down a sugary mixed drink.
“I think the thought [concerning the policy] was, ‘hard alcohol is more risky because of its strength.’ The majority of the time that somebody goes to the hospital, when I talk with them and ask them, ‘What did you drink,’ usually shots are involved in the night,” Ellow said.
According to Willets resident Luke Pietrantonio ’21, because consumption of hard liquor does not occur at parties, students tend to consume it beforehand instead.
“Not having liquor at frats and at public, open parties is smart, but I think it also encourages pregaming and stuff like that,” Pietrantonio said.
According to the College’s AOD policy, any event with over 10 people, even in a dorm room, needs a permit as a registered event. Many pregames on campus, such as the one that Clay attended, involve as many people as frat parties. Despite this, because hard liquor cannot be present at registered events, hosts of pregames often do not obtain permits. Clay, who felt that he was able to regulate the amount of alcohol consumed by underclassmen attending his pregame, wants PubSafe to give out permits for pregames that involve hard alcohol.
“They should encourage pregames hosted by upperclassmen [and] have event registration for pregames. PubSafe would be there to regulate,” Clay said.
Ellow also feels that more registered pregames could facilitate safer drinking practices.
“I think if you required people to register pregames, I would think it would make people hopefully be more aware of what they’re doing, because they know that the school would be monitoring in some way,” Ellow said. “That’s the whole point of a registered party: they want to allocate resources like Swat Team.”
However, according to Ellow, it may be difficult to get students to register pregames with the current AOD policy.
“I wonder if that registered pregame would require no [hard] alcohol like we require at parties, if people wouldn’t register anyway,” Ellow said.
While Ellow also acknowledged that the hard liquor policy encourages pregaming in dorms, he feels that students are as safe drinking hard liquor at a pregame as they are at a party as long as they’re together.
“In my eyes, anytime people are around people that could potentially respond to an emergency, it’s a good thing, and I think most of the time, that happens,” Ellow said.
Though administrative policies are sometimes viewed as causing issues in the college’s drinking culture, Ellow feels that the issue is more about a lack of communication about student expectations of drinking culture.
“People know [policy] is there, but it’s not always enough to be the driving force,” Ellow said. “But I do think policy is important. I think that, you know, why have it if we’re not gonna follow it? It’s a challenge though, because I think we hear ‘no hard alcohol at parties,’ but it’s still so prevalent elsewhere. But I know sometimes it is like that, when students are like, ‘Here’s the policy, but this is how we really do it.’ It can really divide people and take us away from the community feel that we want to have.”
Willets residence hall is one of the most popular spots on campus for pregames. Seven of the nine total alcohol-related incidents and four out of five hospitalizations to which PubSafe responded on Sept. 9 occurred there. Large pregames also often occur in Worth hall, but many more underage students tend to live in Willets than in Worth because Worth is an upperclassman-only residence hall. Because of the amount of underage drinking incidents that have occurred there, PubSafe has been monitoring parties and hangouts at Willets closely this year.
“It might have been last weekend or two weekends ago when I was just walking through Willets and people were literally playing water pong, like they didn’t have any alcohol or anything at all. They were just hanging out in one room, didn’t even have 10 people and PubSafe came and shut that down, which was really weird,” Pietrantonio said.
Ellow believes that the the social dynamic behind alcohol consumption, rather than pregaming in and of itself, can explain the amount of incidents at Willets that night.
“It’s not so much peer pressure, but it’s just people thinking, ‘This is what everybody does,’” Ellow said. “There’s also this weird self-fulfilling prophecy; it’s weird how expectations work with alcohol. You know, if people expect Willets to be this place where they can just do whatever and get crazy, the alcohol’s going to be symbolic for that.”
Pietrantonio shared a similar sentiment about the overconsumption of alcohol at Willets on Sept. 9.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily people trying to live up to the reputation of Willets almost or if it’s kind of like a herd mentality type thing in Willets.”
However, Pietrantonio couldn’t pin the cause of the hospitalizations to pregaming at Willets.
“The people that I was with, which was a good chunk of people at Willets, weren’t pregaming by any means,” Pietrantonio said. “[The hospitalizations] kind of seemed a little atypical and just a little weird given that it was just people hanging out, casually drinking. People weren’t really taking tons of shots.”
Instead, Pietrantonio feels that the incidents stemmed from hype around Disorientation and the scale of events that night.
“I think part of it had to do, definitely, with it being the first weekend,” he said. “And from what I understand from some of the upperclassmen, there are certain weekends throughout the year that are like this, like they were saying Halloween, Worthstock, all that kind of stuff.”
A Swassip Girl article in a 2015 issue of the Phoenix also addressed the tradition of students expecting to party heavily at Disorientation.
“Disorientation represents one of the few endeavors by Swatties to map our perceptions of Real College Parties onto our quaint, nerdy, liberal arts surroundings,” Samantha Herron ’18 wrote. “It’s an attempt made in order to prove that Swarthmore goes as hard as you convinced yourself it would when you decided to go here.”
According to Pietrantonio, the party culture at Swarthmore was more active than he had expected.
“Going into Swarthmore … obviously I’d heard the reputation that it’s not a big party campus [but] with stuff like Disorientation, that has shifted my view a little bit,” Pietrantonio said.
Some feel that students should take it upon themselves to fix safety issues and other issues inherent in Swarthmore party culture through community discourse.
“Safety is a shared responsibility and we have to work together to make sure we all stay safe,” Hill wrote in an email. “There needs to be a conversation around personal responsibility, both for the individuals consuming and for those providing alcoholic beverages.”
As part of this conversation, the Delta Upsilon fraternity jointly held an event called ‘So you think you can party like a Swattie’ with Ellow, OSE director Andrew Barclay, Title IX director Nina Harris, interim Title IX fellow Raven Bennett and Pubnite officers to educate students about resources and solutions for AOD and consent issues, from Swat Team (formerly known as Quaker Bouncers) to the 4 D’s of intervention, as well as some of the unspoken conventions of Swat party culture.
“We as upperclassmen definitely have a culture of feeling okay with using our resources and we want to extend that, make it [known] at Swat,” PubNite officer and OSE intern Shivani Chinnapan ’18 said. “We want to talk about the problem before it becomes one.”
Both the PubNite officers and the DU representatives wanted to convey the message that the most important consideration when having a party is safety and that they have multiple options for reporting safety issues and using AOD resources at the College.
“Amongst younger students, there’s this fear of authority … when it comes to alcohol. No one is trying to get you in trouble, because the only real trouble is you being unsafe,” Chinnapan said.
DU risk manager Charles Kuchenbrod mentioned that fraternity brothers move their kegs downstairs at 11:30 p.m. so that people dancing have to consider walking downstairs to get more drinks, which typically discourages them from overconsuming.
“I am invested to make sure [the DU house] stays a good space,” Kuchenbrod said. “Saturday nights, we have a group of brothers walking around with glowsticks. By talking to us [before Swat Team or PubSafe], you’re giving us the ability to take a more measured approach [to safety].”
Next year, the OSE, PubNite, DU, and Ellow plan to hold a student panel similar to the one of the “So you think you can party like a Swattie” event during orientation instead of in September. While Pietrantonio feels that orientation information sessions can sometimes risk being overlooked because of how overwhelmed first-years are during those times, he supports the idea of upperclassmen addressing party culture issues that go outside of AOD policy.
“Maybe having upperclassmen on campus during orientation just to kind of help kids not like learn how to party but [learn] how to just be safe and know what their limits are, obviously if you’re at a pregame and you don’t know what is the right level for you, it’s easy to go over and then you have a problem on your hands,” Pietrantonio said.
“In some different setting, kind of looking at what a productive party culture is, or a safe party culture, rather than just being like ‘don’t drink.’”
Though students have voiced complaints about the college’s AOD policy, Ellow asserts that their policy leaves room for students to safely enjoy parties by, for example, only banning hard alcohol at registered parties and not prohibiting it completely.
“The college recognizes that alcohol in and of itself shouldn’t be demonized,” Ellow said.
As long as Swarthmore remains a college, students will continue to throw parties, and student and faculty discourse will continue to flow around how best to facilitate a healthy and safe party culture.
“Throw a party with the intention of it to be a good time,” Ellow said. “A good time should always be about more than just a drink.”