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Events management restructuring reflects college-wide change

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On Oct. 30, President Valerie Smith sent out an email announcing that the special assistant to the President, Susan Eagar, will have a new role as director of events and programs, effective Nov. 20. This role will be to oversee event planning broadly, and it is part of structural changes to the department of events management.

President Smith’s email outlined the responsibilities of Eagar’s new position.

“In her new role, Susan will be responsible for all event operations and year-round logistical coordination of Swarthmore College events including major campus events, prominent speakers, and presidential events, as needed.”

In her current role as special assistant, Eagar provides high-level administrative support to the President and manages the daily operations of the President’s office. The email also outlined that Eagar would collaborate with external clients, oversee booking, and act as the main contact for all scheduling as well as the main point of contact between the event staff, host of the event, and support for events. She will also “implement, execute, and manage” the reservations systems and “provide ongoing training and resources for those scheduling events.” All of these tasks will be done through Swat Central, which is a “new, centralized” online event reservation system.

According to Eagar, Swat Central will replace the current online campus calendar and EMS, the current space reservations system. This new system will put space reservations, setup needs, and events publicity into one place; it will be implemented in spring 2018. Swat Central, like Eagar’s new role, indicates structural changes in the department of events management.

“It will serve as a one-stop hub for our campus community to learn about and reserve space for College events, classes, and meetings,” Eagar said via email.

The department of events management operates under the executive director of auxiliary services Anthony Coschignano. Coschignano mentioned via email that Swat Central will “provide more efficient and effective services.”

The Events Management Department was previously known as “Space and Summer Programs,” but since the department underwent restructuring, the name has been changed. The Events Management Department falls under the umbrella of Auxiliary Services. Other departments under Auxiliary Services include Dining and Catering Services, OneCard, The Swarthmore Campus and Community Store, Office Services, Post Office, and the Inn at Swarthmore.

Regarding the function of her department, Eagar said, “The Events Management Department is responsible for providing quality service to all our customers seeking the use of campus facilities.”

The structure of the Events Management Department includes an events coordinator and setup crew leader. The department plans to hire student workers as well to help with daily planning, particularly relating to summer programs. Coschignano said that this hiring process and structuring will occur over this academic year.

Coschignano noted that the department’s previous structure was similar, the changes are significant.

“The objective is to create an events office that will be best be able to support campus events in a more holistic, efficient, and creative way,” he said in an email.

This objective is reflected in President Smith’s college-wide email, which mentioned that this particular instance of restructuring relates to the 2016 visioning exercise.

On the Swarthmore College website, the 2016 visioning exercise is said to be “an effort … to help [the college] think more holistically about both the nature of students’ lives beyond the classroom and the types of spaces, services, technologies, activities, and campus culture that might support those experiences, both now and into the future.”

The 2016 visioning exercise is a complement to the Strategic Directions plan from December 2011, during the presidency of Rebecca Chop. Strategic Directions is a 40-page outline of a “strategic plan” to explain core values of the college, evaluate the current environment of the college, outline recommendations for change, lay out commitments to support the work, and provide implementations and future steps for the plan. Other elements of the plan included a campus facilities master plan as well as a diversity and inclusion plan.

A result of Strategic Directions was the development of a Master Plan for the college, which includes plans for the college’s growth, including the expansion of the number of buildings and students. The Master Plan can be found on the Swarthmore College website.

Eager’s new position as director of events and programs is indicative of the college’s efforts to grow and restructure which have been outlined in the 2016 visioning exercise and the Master Plan.

Mary Lyons to be site for summer housing despite student concerns

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The Mary Lyons residence hall has been designated to be the summer residence hall for all students who will be staying on campus this summer. Many students expressed concerns or questions over this decision by the administration since Mary Lyons neither on campus nor air-conditioned.

“Historically, Mary Lyons was used as summer housing in large part due to the number of students it can hold (100+), the building’s proximity to a parking lot, and the large breakfast room.  A few years ago, in advance of a multi-year summer renovation project, summer housing was transitioned to temporary locations in Parrish, Mertz, and Willets,” said the Assistant Dean and Director for Student Engagement Rachel Head.

Alexandra Ye ’19, who will be working in Philadelphia in the upcoming summer, expressed her concern for living in Mary Lyons.

“I’m actually working in Philly, but I think I’m hoping to live near or on campus for the ease of finding a place and being around friends,” said Ye.

Her main concern is that Mary Lyons is too far away from the SEPTA station in addition to being so far from main campus.

“I’m not sure how I feel about living in ML — I’ve heard many negative things about the meal plan, and it’s less conveniently located than other apartments in the Ville for catching the train,” said Ye.

Daniel Lai ’17, a current senior who stayed on campus for the past two summers, also expressed concern in terms of the meal plan.

“I wasn’t really able to use it because the hours were limited, and I would always leave campus for work before meals could be used and would come back on campus after Sharples had already closed. I was able to use the Points by going to the coffee bar before work every day,” Lai said.

Mary Lyons has a kitchen, but living there is not going to make Sharples more accessible to students. However, a better meal plan will be available this summer, according to Head.

“Isaiah has been working closely with Dining Services to identify a partial meal plan that can better meet the needs of students who participate in campus employment, summer research, and off-campus opportunities.  I believe the new plan is a combination of scheduled meals and off-campus Ville points. More information on that plan will be shared by Dining Services in the near future,” said Head.

Lai also expressed that he did not understand the administration’s decision this year. For the past two years, he stayed in Mertz and Willets. Mertz has air-conditioning in each individual room. Willets, while it does not have air-conditioning in the rooms, had two kitchens that were available for the students to use as well as an air-conditioned lounge.

“I really don’t understand why the administration would choose to use ML as the summer dorm this year and in years previous to 2015. It’s incredibly inconvenient for people working on-campus as well as off-campus. It’s also frustrating for move-in / out and moving things in and out of storage. Not to mention further from groceries [at] Giant and Target,” said Lai.

Assistant Director of Residential Community Isaiah Thomas explained that this decision was made collaboratively by the Office of Student Engagement and Facilities Management.

“Every year, the Office of Student Engagement works closely with Facilities to assess the dorms that are available for summer housing,” said Thomas.

He then further explained Facilities’ role in the decision-making process.

“The summer period is when Facilities completes renovations of the various dorms on campus while they are unoccupied. One of the reasons Mary Lyons was chosen was due to the fact that Facilities completed a two-year renovation over the summer[s] of 2015 and 2016. Prior to the renovation, Mary Lyons was traditionally used for Summer Housing,” wrote Thomas.

Thomas also indicated there are other factors that are taken into consideration, such as dorms with the fewest numbers of seniors, the housing needs for Alumni Weekend, student feedbacks, and so on.

The current distribution of the senior class is important when determining which residence hall will be used for summer housing.  In order to get the most time in Swarthmore during the summer, almost all students wish to move directly into their summer rooms from their spring rooms.  In order to accommodate this, we cannot use a dorm space that has a high [percentage] of seniors nor can we use locations that house alums during Alumni Weekend [or] summer camps or are due for summer renovations,” said Head.

Head explained that Mary Lyons is the most suitable place in order to accommodate as many students as possible for faculty research, off-campus employment, and other individual student experiences.

“[We] need to use a building that has the capacity to meet a number of different needs and has relatively flexible space.  Mary Lyons offers spaces with gendered and gender-neutral bathrooms, has a low number of seniors, which allows for early move-in, has parking close to the building, has recently been renovated, includes tile floors, and has a large kitchen space that can help supplement the summer meal plan,” said Head.

Finally, Thomas explained the future plans for summer housing next year.

“Set to open in Fall 2017, we feel that the [new] PPR Apartments will be an ideal location for summer housing in the future with the suite style set-up, kitchens in the suites, air conditioning, and large shared lounge space,” wrote Thomas.

There are a lot of restrictions in the choosing process of summer housing. According to the administration, Mary Lyons, while being far away from the campus, is the most suitable residence hall for the students who are staying on campus for the summer. Meanwhile, the administration hopes a change in the summer meal plan will improve the experience of the summer experience at Swarthmore.

Interim coordinators hired to oversee student events

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Last month, Kyle Miller and Carl Starkey joined the college community as interim Coordinators for Students Activities and Leadership. They will work in the Office of Student Engagement to help students and campus organizations hold events. The employment of Miller and Starkey is a result of the departure of Mike Elias. Elias, the previous Director of OSE, left Swarthmore at the start of the school year to become an assistant dean at Haverford.

Starkey is eager to become familiar with the campus and students. “I am looking forward to building relationships with students and student organizations, and being a resource for anyone on campus interested in programming and event management,” he wrote in an email.

Miller similarly hopes to become a reliable resource for students. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to enhance the co-curricular experience for students and to help build infrastructure that can support student needs,” he wrote.

Originally from the Midwest, Starkey came to Swarthmore in early November after graduating from St. Olaf College. He plans to spend his professional life working for institutions of higher education. “I am pursuing a career in higher education and joined OSE [at] Swat to further my experience in student activities,” he wrote.

Miller completed his graduate and undergraduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, and he shares interest in the same line of work. “The Office of Student Engagement… was an opportunity to join a vibrant campus community and continue my commitment to higher education,” he explained.

Director for Student Engagement Rachel Head is enthusiastic that Miller and Starkey are joining the OSE team.

“We are very excited to have Kyle and Carl join the Office of Student Engagement,” she wrote in an email. “Carl and Kyle will work alongside the rest of the OSE team… as well as the entire Dean’s Division to support a number of student life and residential life initiatives.”

She believes their diverse backgrounds and experiences qualify them for their new positions. “Both join the OSE with significant experience in advising student organizations and programming boards,” she said. “I am pleased that we are able to offer Swarthmore student organizations two additional resources for event planning and programming.”

Head described Starkey’s role as focusing on collaborations with the Athletics Department, First-Year Orientation, venue management, student transportation, and leading office social media initiatives. She specified that Miller will be supporting Greek Life, Student Government, Olde Club, WSRN, Movie Committee, late night programming, substance-free programming, and managing student events. Both will be involved in supporting the program of OSE Interns, SwatTeam, and large-scale events held on campus .

“The Office of Student Engagement is responsible for both residential life and student activities, and while Kyle and Carl make up the ‘student activities’ side of the [OSE] office, they will work closely with Residential Life staff to support the overall student experience,” she elaborated.

Head expressed particular interest in the pair helping to improve and centralize the student programming calendar, which she described as having been difficult to work with in the past.

“Creating a more accessible and uniform programming calendar for students is one of many top priorities for our office,” she wrote. “I am thrilled that having a full staff will allow us to make progress on that project. Over and over again we hear from students that there is not one central location where all event calendars merge, and that the reservation and funding process for student organizations is really confusing and unnecessarily complicated.”

She mentioned that OSE members had been working on fixing these issues over the summer, and she is excited for Miller and Starkey to continue the progress.

Both also expressed interests in continuing work on current projects as well as initiating new ones. “There are a number of projects in the hopper,” they wrote. “Two big programs we’ve already been working to support are the Friday Fun Day events and Midnight Breakfast.”

Since their positions are not permanent, Head explained that the college will soon be searching for long-term faculty to hold their titles. “In the early spring term, most likely February, the [Dean’s] Office will be launching two national searches for filling two vacant positions currently being filled in the interim by Carl and Kyle,” she explained. “During that semester, students and other community members will be able to take part in that process and meet candidates.”

For the next few weeks, Miller and Starkey will be holding meetings with students and groups to better understand their needs. They will also be holding Finals Study Break events later this month.

OSE absorbs SAC, all-campus event funding

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The Social Affairs Committee, which previously served as the main funding body for all-campus events and parties, no longer exists, primarily because its function of providing alcohol funding for parties became obsolete last year. The Office of Student Engagement will take over this funding responsibility.

Co-President of Student Government Christine Kim ’17, who was previously a member of SAC, explained that a number of factors played a role in the decision to disband the committee and create a new funding process.

One of SAC’s primary purposes was to allocate alcohol money under the guise of DJ funding, Kim explained, referring to the practice by which clubs or groups hoping to host a party would bring a proposal to the committee asking for a certain amount of money to pay a DJ, and then use those funds to purchase alcohol instead. However, in the fall of 2014, SAC was no longer allowed to provide this “DJ funding.”

“Once that was gone, there was no point in SAC being there,” Kim said. All logistics for all-campus parties and events became the responsibility of the OSE, while SAC continued to make funding decisions, Kim explained.

According to Kim, this led to a great deal of miscommunication between the OSE and SAC and complicated the logistics of large-scale events such as Halloween and the winter formal. Additionally, the unpaid members of SAC were required to set up and clean up for these events, and were thus limited from fully participating in these events.

However, despite the elimination of DJ funding, SAC continued to provide party funding. Kim said that the fraternities consistently asked for, and were granted, between $200 and $300 each week for party decorations. For larger events, such as Delta Upsilon’s annual party during Worthstock, Margaritaville, SAC shelled out a more extensive amount.

Thus, even though SAC was no longer allowed to provide alcohol funding, students continued to ask for party funding, though Kim acknowledged that these funding requests were fraternity-heavy and that few other student groups requested money or held parties.

As SAC came to seem increasingly obsolete, Kim and Steve Sekula ’17, fellow co-president of SGO, met with the former and current heads of the Student Budget Committee, which distributes the student activities fee between groups, clubs, and SAC. The students discussed a new event-funding process and decided to streamline it all through the OSE.

Sekula explained that the OSE had created a new portal where students seeking funding could input all of their event information and ensure the security of party permits, equipment, and other necessities before receiving funding.

Kim elaborated on the multiple simplifying features of the new process. Formerly, when student groups holding events would receive funding from SAC, the committee would have to send liaisons to check that the groups were using the money for their stated purposes.

“This wasn’t being coordinated well,” Kim said, explaining that the OSE, meanwhile, would have to ensure that groups having parties had secured permits and were using wet spaces rather than dry ones, as well as coordinating other forms of event assistance such as Swat Team.

“The real purpose of SAC was really confusing for a lot of people,” Kim said. Students would attend SAC meetings, but their proposals would not fit under the bylines of what the committee funded, so they would be sent to the Forum for Free Speech, to seek departmental funding, to the OSE, or to the movie committee.

“They didn’t know where to go,” Kim said. Now, however, all of these funding bodies and more are available to select as possible sources, to be evaluated by the OSE, through the new funding portal.

Kim emphasized that students would still have some say over event funding.

“The OSE will maintain the student aspect of student input in funding decisions,” Kim said. Kim said that the OSE interns would have input into the funding decisions, along with whoever is hired to replace Assistant Director of Student Activities, Leadership, and Greek Life Mike Elias, who leaves the college to take a position at Haverford College this week.

Kim said she hopes that the new, simplified funding process will lead to an increase in parties by groups other than fraternities.

“We’re hoping that campus culture will revive Paces and Olde Club parties,” Kim said. “I think it’ll happen, because it’s a much cleaner process for smaller student groups to propose and they are now given a legitimate support system through the OSE.”

Kim added that she thought the process would be imperfect, but that SGO and others would be open to change.

“If we need to reevaluate and say, ‘this isn’t working out,’ I’m sure that SGO and other people who have the power to shift these processes will change them the way they need to be changed,” Kim said.

Two open meetings to explain the new funding process, as well as a revamped chartering process for groups and clubs, will be held on Monday from 7-8 PM and 8-9 PM.

Debates over and shifts to the ways in which the college funds alcohol for parties (or not) are not new. A Daily Gazette article by Lauren Stokes ’09 discusses that as early as 2005, students were concerned about the ways in which the college provides funding for alcohol.

“…The school must stop its de facto funding of alcohol for reasons of potential legal liability,” the article reads. “As a result, enforcement of SAC funding will become more strict. Not only has the administration been alerted to the most prevalent ‘work-arounds,’ but SAC will start asking party proposers specifically about where they’re getting money for alcohol,” the article reads, listing a number of other changes to the party funding process.

Like Kim and others, students in the past were concerned about the shifts in the college social scene that would occur if SAC stopped funding alcohol.

“Some students expressed concern that the fraternities would consume the party scene at Swarthmore, but most believed that ‘Swattie ingenuity’ would be able to overcome that danger,” Stokes wrote.

“Most students don’t want to lose the ‘free activities’ so important to Swarthmore culture, but a few students pointed out the fallacy of equating ‘activities’ with ‘Paces parties,’” Stokes continued. “These students hoped that the crackdown on alcohol funding would inspire ‘more open thinking about the student activities fee,’ inspiring proposals for new social events instead of more ‘tired’ Paces parties.”

Series of changes to affect residential life

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As students begin looking for roommates and planning out their housing situations for the 2015-16 academic year, some have begun to raise concerns regarding changes in the housing process and in Swarthmore residential life at large.

The most public and transparent of these changes is the option for upperclassmen to opt to live in substance-free housing, which will be offered first as a hall in lower level Dana, and if enough interest is shown, as another hall in lower level Hallowell. According to the college website, the creation of substance-free housing was based on demonstrated student interest in a residential space where the possession or use of alcohol, controlled substances and tobacco products by residents or their guests is prohibited. Resident Assistant Lihu Ben-Ezri-Ravin ’16 said in an email that the creation of this hall depends on the amount of student interest, and said that if fewer than fourteen students indicate interest in a substance-free hall, it would prove difficult to follow through with an entire hall designated as substance-free.

An online poll administered by the Phoenix, however, indicates that the student interest in substance-free housing is less than the administration suspects. Out of 272 respondents, 39 percent believe that the addition of substance-free housing would improve residential life at the college. This percentage is likely to be larger than the actual number of students who would be interested in living on a substance-free hall, but the exact number of students intending to opt-in remains unclear. These results also contrast sharply with a poll run by the Office of Student Engagement, which said that over 78 percent of students suggested that substance-free housing was necessary in a recent residential experience survey.

The announcement of substance-free housing on campus also raised concerns that RAs would be forced to play a more involved role in enforcing college policy on residence halls, a shift that many at Swarthmore perceive to be detrimental to residential life. The logic in these concerns is that on substance-free halls, RAs would be held more responsible for ensuring public spaces retain truly free of substances than they currently are on regular residence halls. However, these concerns appear to be unsubstantiated.

“The RA will be the one facilitating this community, and likely will spend more time than other RAs establishing community standards and working with students for whom this may be a problem,” Ben-Ezri-Ravin wrote. He explained that enforcement will not involve disciplinary action from the administration, but rather dialogue between the student, the RA, and potentially other affected community members and Residential Community Coordinators.

“Students will be free to do whatever they want on campus, as long as their substance use does not interfere with the hall in anyway,” he wrote. “So, going to a party won’t be a problem. Coming back drunk and breaking things or vomiting on the floor will be.”

Student reactions to the addition of substance-free housing have been generally positive. Joaquin Delmar ’18 lauded the decision as a way for students who feel uncomfortable or medically affected by a particular substance to have better housing options, but questioned its necessity for students who would simply prefer not to live with substances on their hall.

“For the common student, I think that people should be exposed to the realities of a college campus and the world. People should grow and learn to make decisions for themselves; part of that is choosing to responsibly learn from a substance[d] world,” he said in an email.

Mindy Cheng ’18 also believes the new option was generally a good idea, even though it did not appeal to her personally.

“I like the idea of substance-free housing, but I like the freedom of non-substance-free housing. I wouldn’t live there but I think it’s good to offer that option to people,” she said.

Another, less visible, shift in residential life policies is the anticipated addition of first-year residential halls with the arrival of the class of 2019. The Office of Student Engagement confirmed the plans to create first-year housing, and explained in an email that the change stems from the need to provide an intentional residential experience that would ease first-years’ transition and help them navigate the college environment better.

These new first-year “wings” would be piloted in sections of both Willets and Mary Lyon residence halls and will contain roughly 20 first-year students each. However, the OSE made it clear that this would not create exclusively first-year dorms. They were quick to recognize mixed-year housing as a fundamental aspect of the Swarthmore experience. But they also explained that they needed to be responsive to the need for programming that builds skills related to diversity and inclusion, which they believe should also be a fundamental aspect of the Swarthmore experience. They explained that they need structures to allow that work to take place, implying these first-year “wings” would be a part of this process.

The OSE also pointed out that this change is a direct response to perceived student interests. In the same survey the OSE referenced above, 79 percent of the student population said they would like to see RAs and intentional programming dedicated specifically to first-years. However, this data also contrasts sharply with the Phoenix-administered poll, in which 75% percent of respondents believed that first-year housing would alter the first-year experience at Swarthmore for the worse. A discrepancy between the surveys may have been caused by a misunderstanding of the type of intentional programming the respondents of the OSE survey believed would be beneficial to residential life at Swarthmore.

The speculation over first-year housing has sparked a significant amount of backlash and mobilization on-campus, concentrated mostly amongst the Class of 2018. A group of members of the Class of 2018, led by Sam Wallach Hanson and Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland, have mobilized a campaign against the institution of first-year housing.

“There are a lot of people up in arms about this … [and] I feel like a lot of people feel left in the dark about this, and I think people want there to be some student input in the process like Swarthmore purportedly believes in,” Wallach Hanson said in an e-mail. On Monday evening, Wallach Hanson and other current freshmen met with Assistant Director of Residential Communities Isaiah Thomas in order to express their concerns with the proposed changes.

“We got very little definitively, [and] he gave us a huge run-around,” Wallach Hanson said. According to him, Thomas said in the meeting that the administration is currently considering five freshman halls: three in Willets and two in Mary Lyon, which would be about 25 percent of the freshman class.

“Basically, it was hugely unhelpful and he said he would talk to Rachel Head … but it sound[ed] like he’s not going to do anything about what we were saying,” Wallach Hanson said. After the meeting, Wallach Hanson and others launched an electronic petition and invited both current Swarthmore students and alumni to sign against the proposed first-year housing. The petition argues that immediately implementing such a large change and moving a fourth of the incoming first-year class into exclusive housing will act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, where students not on a first-year hall will feel like they are missing out on the chance to be with exclusively other freshmen. The petition also warns against the loss of essential inter-class relationships that form as a result of mixed-class housing as it currently exists at Swarthmore, and mentions frustrations with the current blocking options for the Class of 2018.  In slightly over 24 hours, the petition acquired 525 signatures from students of various classes and alumni, indicating a noticeable amount of opposition to the institution of first-year halls.

The OSE recognized the significant number of students and alumni opposed to the changes in first-year housing, and said in an e-mail that the open letter spells out a variety of concerns and that hearing student concerns is always their priority. They assured the Phoenix in an e-mail that these concerns will be taken into account when the housing changes are implemented, but that some of what is outlined is also exaggerating what are relatively minor changes to the residential experience. The OSE emphasized that it did ask for student feedback through a residential survey, has vetted opinions through focus groups, used RAs as sounding boards, and intends to speak to the Student Government Organization about the changes and hear their opinions as well.

Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Lili Rodriguez also had strong opinions regarding the petition.

“One of the points I would challenge in the open letter, is the implication that this is a ‘tight-knit’ community, that everything is working as well as it could be. Some students may feel that way, but I know a large segment that do not, that want change and want to be a part of a community that thinks critically about diversity, social justice, and hope to build an even stronger community. These changes provide us a platform for that work,” she said in an e-mail.

It remains to be seen if the proposed changes to housing for the 2015-2016 academic year will be carried through in their entirety or change in response to student demand.

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