As the first half of the semester has gone by, returning students have noticed changes in the way that Public Safety has been interacting with students, from specific changes like PubSafe’s official Building Patrol Notice as well as general shifts in campus drinking culture that are attributed to stricter enforcement of drinking policies by Public Safety. These changes inspire reflection on what kind of campus students want to have, and whether it is attainable in the fact of campus policies and state laws. Public Safety’s job, first and foremost, is to keep students safe, and I am incredibly grateful that I feel like I can walk alone at night around campus and have someone to call if I was in an emergency. However, recent shifts feel like they have crossed a line from keeping students safe to keeping them in line.
The Building Patrol Notice has the best of intentions: get students to stop leaving their expensive items around campus and make them lock their doors. These are noble causes. I personally make sure to lock my door whenever my roommate and I aren’t in our building. It’s more secure to keep doors locked, and prevents all of the valuables I keep in my room, which include textbooks, old t-shirts from high school cross country, and several bottles of nail polish, safe. Students should have the right to decide whether or not they value the convenience of having their room unlocked more than the added safety. Swarthmore is supposed to be a close-knit community, and dorm residents should be able to determine for themselves if they trust their dorm-mates enough to leave their door unlocked while they go to do laundry or even out for a jog. Public Safety should find a way to promote door locking and not leaving items unattended without going into dorms and locking doors and taking students items. If a student leaves their laptop on the main floor of McCabe while they walk to another floor to use the restroom, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not it will be there when it gets back. I certainly didn’t until it became official policy for PubSafe to take it if they choose; I trust my peers to both not take my stuff and to notice if someone who wasn’t a student tried to walk off with it. Swarthmore students are adults, and when I visited Swarthmore as a junior in high school, it seemed like I would be treated as such.
At that time, unbeknownst to me, the culture of drinking on campus was beginning to change. The DJ fund had been phased out, and the College was no longer funding PubNite either. Today, in my second year, I find the drinking culture here chilling. For many students, the average drinking options are the large parties thrown by the frats or whatever campus group is hosting in Paces, or drinking in their dorms. Public Safety has also been cracking down on drinking in academic buildings, which would make it impossible for even a small group of students to go to Trotter on a Saturday and drink wine while playing cards or another casual and non-disruptive game. The requirement for parties of 10 attendees and over to be registered means that a student who wants to get together with nine friends would not only have to register the party, but take on the legal responsibility for whether or not attendees under 21 consume alcohol. Because the hosts of registered parties are legally responsible for attendees of their parties, smaller parties are harder to host despite being much safer than a party at DU. If PubSafe came to a small registered party without being called and an attendee under 21 was drinking, it is much easier for the College to prove that the host knowingly allowed that person to drink illegally, which would have massive ramifications for that person. Conversely, there is a lot of plausible deniability for the hosts of all-campus parties because of the size of the parties and the fact that they are open to campus. Everyone knows that people under twenty-one are being served beer at open parties, yet a host of a small party takes on a higher degree of risk despite the much lower risk involved in a small, casual get-together compared to a packed frat party. The focus for Public Safety and the College should be on mitigating risk. Making it difficult for small parties to happen when they are safe outlets for students to drink does a disservice to students on this campus. Carding students and confiscating alcohol from dorms also goes against the idea of mitigating risk and keeping students safe, but if students fear Public Safety, they will not go to them when they actually need help.
The national drinking age and state laws also are incredibly problematic in keeping students safe. The drinking age was raised to 21 because of lobbying by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to prevent drunk driving deaths. Pennsylvania does not provide medical amnesty for students who are ill due to the effects of alcohol. The enforcement of the drinking age on Swarthmore’s campus is of course, the law, but ignores the intent of the law. Students at Swarthmore’s campus don’t drive for the most part. About ten percent of students have cars, and approximately zero percent of students need a car to get from their dorm to Paces on a Saturday night. The drinking age has been effective in preventing drunk driving, according to the NIH, and that has absolutely saved lives and is good for society. However, walking under the influence of Angry Orchard has not harmed anyone, and as someone who is old enough to vote, join the military, and buy fireworks, I think I should be able to have a freaking hard cider without the full force of the law interrupting my fun. [Author’s note: I promise to neither vote or use fireworks under the influence.] The college should only devote resources to enforcing the drinking age if it keeps students safe, and as it stands, enforcing the drinking age incentivizing unsafe drinking practices.
Students pregame hard in their dorms with hard liquor and then go out because of stricter enforcement. Pregaming is dangerous, because it mainly features hard alcohol and students attempt to drink quickly so they can go out and actually experience the party. Strict enforcement of the drinking age pushes students into hiding in secrecy, and fear of citation makes them not want to call for help if they need it. The current amnesty policy, that the caller gets amnesty, means nothing because students are still hesitant to cause their friend to get cited if it turns out the situation was not as serious as they thought. Public Safety and the State of Pennsylvania should make students feel like it’s better to be safe than sorry when calling for help.
As I go through my twentieth year of life, I increasingly find it frustrating that the College, Public Safety, and the government do not think I’m old enough to decide for myself whether or not I can drink an alcoholic beverage, and that Public Safety believes that taking students items in the name of protecting them from theft would do anything besides increase tensions between the student body and Public Safety. At least they gave us promotional fidget spinners!