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Public Safety and administration needs transparency with policies

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

At freshman orientation, students are often told that Public Safety is meant to be their friend. It is stressed that Public Safety is not campus police, but instead, a force on campus meant to preserve the best interests of the students. Similarly, we are told that the administration is a support system for students and that they are meant to provide us with the best experience on campus. Yet, recently, many students have felt as if Public Safety and administration have been enforcing policies and performing actions in a manner that are in direct contrast to the interests of the student community.

We at the Phoenix call for Public Safety and the administration to be more open with students about how they intend to enforce policies and the repercussions students may face for breaking a policy. We also believe that, if Public Safety or the administration see policy consistently being broken, they have a responsibility to remind students of the policy and how that policy is going to be enforced by the college.

For example, several students have reported that they have had small social gatherings shut down in their rooms for drinking alcohol, even when everyone in the room was of legal drinking age. Not only have students been confused as to why Public Safety wanted to enter their rooms, but there have also been incidents in which Public Safety recorded student identification numbers without informing students of what they intended to do with the information. We at The Phoenix find it unacceptable that students would have their student IDs recorded as if they were being cited without knowledge of what next steps or repercussions they may face.

After all, Swarthmore students are not children. Students are not actively seeking to break policy or act in direct opposition to Public Safety. Often, students are trying to take a break from the rigorous academic environment, and are engaging in what they see as harmless social activities. If the administration or Public Safety sees these social activities as a violation of policy, they should be more transparent about what exactly counts as a violation and how students can fix it.

Of course, we at The Phoenix recognize that the policies are outlined in the student handbook. While the Student Handbook is a useful and necessary document that discusses the basic rules for student conduct, many of the policies of the Handbook are vague or open-ended.

One of the concerns students have had is about when Public Safety would see a reason to enter student dorm rooms. If students refer to the Student Handbook, it states that Public Safety may enter a room without notice when “there is reason to believe that a College policy/rule, state, federal, or local law is being violated” or “in order to check the health and/or wellbeing of a student at any time” (page 21 of the Student Handbook). This policy tells the student very little about when they may be engaging in a behavior that would lead a Public Safety officer to enter their room. By this policy’s standards, Public Safety could enter a student’s room at any time, and a student is granted almost no information as to what would lead Public Safety to have reason to enter their room.

We recognize that Public Safety and the administration have a right to enforce policies and that the college is a private institution with rules and guidelines that students agree to follow when they commit to joining the Swarthmore community. However, we at the Phoenix believe that the administration has a responsibility to be more transparent with how policies will be enforced and the consequences students will face when a policy is not followed.

Fire erupts in Pittenger bathroom

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On Sunday, April 1 just after 9 a.m., a fire was discovered in the first floor bathroom of Pittenger residence hall. According to Director of Public Safety Michael Hill, the fire, which was due to a faulty exhaust fan, was reported around 9:30 a.m. and extinguished at approximately 9:37 a.m. Two students were moved from their rooms due to smoke exposure, but have since been cleared to return.

The cause of the fire was an exhaust fan. The exhaust fan was severely damaged in the fire, but it appears that the fire began when the fan motor seized,” Hill wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

Zach Viscusi ’20, a second-floor Pittenger resident, discovered the fire that Sunday morning when he smelled smoke.

I thought it was coming from my heater because I left my windows open that night and figured the heater was running overtime to keep the room warm. I took a quick waft from the heater and realized it wasn’t outside or my heater … I speed walked to the 2nd floor bathroom, opened the door and thought I discovered the cause. A trashcan too close to the heater. ‘Was this what was lighting on fire?’ I asked myself. I moved it away from the heater and felt I had saved everyone,” Viscusi wrote in an e-mail.

However, Viscusi’s trash can turned out not to be the cause of the fire.

“Going back towards my room after a job well done, I smelled smoke even more than when I was in the bathroom on the 2nd floor. I thought, ‘This can’t be!’ I turned the corner and bounded down the steps into a murky first floor. I opened that bathroom door and a thick black smoke emerged. I tracked it instantaneously as heading towards the fire alarm,” Viscusi wrote. “I ran upstairs and threw clothes on, got my block mate out of his single and sprinted to safety. We later found out it was an electrical malfunction in the ceiling fan.”

In an email sent to Pittenger residents on Sunday, April 2, Resident Communities Coordinator Asraa Jaber expressed that the damage from the fire was minor.

No one was injured and damage was minimal, but the fire did produce a significant amount of black smoke and some residents have been temporarily relocated while the area is ventilated,” Jaber wrote.

According to Hill, the temporary relocation has since been resolved.

There was no damage to rooms that we are aware of, and all other bathrooms are open, so only two students ​asked to move because of the smell of smoke that remained,” Hill wrote. “At this point all students are cleared to return to their rooms and there have been no other issues.”

Hill said that facilities has begun inspecting other exhaust fans in Pittenger, Palmer, and Roberts dorms as well as in buildings on campus, and emphasized the importance of fire safety.

I do want to take a moment to remind everyone how important fire safety is.  Please don’t assume that an alarm is a false activation. Leave the building by the nearest exit.  If you can extinguish the fire safely do so BUT never put yourself in harm’s way. If you know what caused the alarm call Public Safety immediately so the officers can respond and address the issue as quickly as possible. It is a shared responsibility,” he wrote.

He also expressed gratitude for the relative lack of harm from the fire.

“We are extremely fortunate that there were no injuries and only minimal damage.  I am especially appreciative of the efforts of the responding officers, emergency responders, Facilities, OSE and the RCCs who came and supported the students through the incident,” Hill wrote.   

The damaged bathroom reopened yesterday, Wednesday, April 4, and is once again available for student use.

Pub Safe hires students to enforce parking violations

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On the eve of this academic year, Public Safety implemented a pilot program that allows students to participate in parking enforcement. Public Safety is now hiring students to patrol and give out parking tickets to parking policy violators.

According to the Swarthmore parking guide website, between 7:00 am and 3:30 pm, visitors may either park in the visitors’ section of the Benjamin West Lot, or in signed Visitor spaces in the Fieldhouse House Lot and the Whittier Lot. On the other hand, students have to apply for a parking permit to use designated parking lots. With a newly built Cunningham parking lot, students are now only officially permitted to park in either Cunningham or Mary Lyon. Lastly, parkers must obey the parking signs. Public Safety Officers and now students hired by the office issue parking tickets to people who park where they are not supposed to, and to people who did not obey the parking signs. But enforcing a policy in such a large scale isn’t without difficulty.

“Enforcing parking can be difficult to do effectively or consistently since it is not the primary focus of our patrol efforts,” wrote Mike Hill, the Director of Public Safety, in an email. “With BEP construction and the consolidation of student parking in the Cunningham South lot, I felt that hiring students would be a good opportunity to improve our enforcement efforts and to create a new student employment opportunity.” Interested students can apply to be parking patrol officers by emailing Sam Smemo, the Associate Director of Public Safety Operations.

Director Hill hopes that the community will appreciate a new student employment opportunity, while better enforcing parking rules and regulations, especially where there is limited parking space.

However, the new policy isn’t without student opposition. Some students feel as though the ticketing policy have negligible, if any consequences at all.

“I just don’t think it’s very effective, it’s pretty unclear what happens if you do or do not pay [the ticket] …somebody told me recently that if I don’t pay them it just gets taken out of my account…  it’s kind of been at least in my mind like a running joke of Swarthmore like everyone gets parking tickets” said Casey Lu Simon-Plumb ’18.     

Other students feel as though the power position allotted to student patrol officers creates an undesirable atmosphere among the student community. “I just take issue with like having students that have so much power to reprimand another student in any way shape or form,” said Chris Malafronti ’17. Simon-Plumb agreed that the power dynamic among students the policy create is significant.

“If [the student patrols are] friends that I know, and like they know it’s my car, it just adds in weird dynamics… it creates an awkward situation in terms of my relationship to them because it is their job to enforce this [policy], but it’s to their friends.”

Some students may feel as though the policy is unrealistically inconvenient. Visitors may take up parking spaces during the daytime, but the parking lots are generally empty during the night.

“It would be easy if, at night, students could park [in the empty parking lots], but I guess it’s hard to enforce a more nuanced policy,” said Simon-Plumb. Some students, such as Malafronti, feel like the parking policy has been taken too seriously, and is too restrictive. “What if I park by Kohlberg for like an hour and then my parking lot is in Cunningham, but I was just doing something?” said Simon-Plumb.

The pilot policy isn’t perfect, but has been instituted based on good intentions. Though there may be some disagreement, since the policy is still being tested, there could be room for adjustment and negotiation.

Public Safety, borough police clarify relationship

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Students frequently spot police officers on campus, with headlights fixed on the pathways students use to return from parties. Yet, Public Safety employs more personnel than the Swarthmore Borough Police Department; Director of Public Safety Michael Hill has twenty five staff members versus the police department’s eight.

According to Hill, the borough police and the college administration have a close working relationship. The police meet with the college administration every month, and have a written Memorandum of Understanding with Public Safety.

“The MOU puts in writing the practices and protocols that we have in place around a variety of issues, such as emergency response,” said Hill in an email.

The main purpose of the Memorandum is to make clear what information the two parties can share. Public safety can’t share certain information due to Department of Education regulations, according Chief of Police Brian Craig. The Swarthmore police department also has restrictions on what it can share with the college in terms of criminal history records. The Memorandum makes clear that the college ID is a viable form of identification, said Craig, except for moving violations or a violation committed by the driver of a vehicle, students need a government issued identification. The agreement includes a non-pursuit policy which allows public safety to respond initially to auto-accidents and other issues, then call the police to file a report in their system.

The Memorandum also includes agreed upon practices, such as 911 hang-ups. When someone calls 911 and hangs up, the call gets forwarded to the police. The police then call public safety and ask them to check on the situation. The police only respond to the call if public safety requests them to. This practice keeps police out of campus buildings unless a direct 911 call is made.

While the police do patrol Swarthmore’s campus, they only do so in vehicles similarly to the way they monitor the rest of the borough.

“We’re not looking to get involved in the campus,” said Craig. “We take our responsibility to keep it safe very seriously … Our officers patrol the campus, but we don’t go into the dorms unless we’re called for something.”

While the Memorandum is an established written document, the police assess situations on a case by case basis.

The administration and Swarthmore police meet once a month to discuss any disagreements they have. Craig said this occurs sometimes when the police consider someone criminally liable, but the college doesn’t want to prosecute. Because the college is a property owner, administrators can decide whether or not to prosecute in situations when the officer isn’t an eyewitness to the events occurring. Since the police don’t enter the buildings, this would be the dorms and the classrooms.

“When we observe [illicit behavior] we can take action, like [for] underage drinking,” said Craig. “Unless the officer actually observes a violation, he can’t take the appropriate jurisdictional action.”

The police also include Public Safety’s only channel in the radio band that they monitor.

“We just listen to one [radio channel] which is essentially their emergency band as we understand it,” said Craig.

Students have mixed opinions on whether this practice should be occurring.

“On the one hand it’s still their borough, under their jurisdiction,” said Olivia Robbins ’21. “But on the other hand, [the college is] a private institution with private security measures.”

Hill underscored the importance of the practice.  

Having the ability to communicate in a crisis with emergency personnel is crucial, and the College’s effort to ensure this level of radio interoperability demonstrates the commitment the institution has towards the safety of our community,” Hill said.

As a sworn public department, the police have certain abilities that public safety does not. They carry firearms, which means they respond to any armed crimes. They deal with burglaries and reports of intruders on campus and off campus buildings. The police will also respond to any medical calls; officers are trained first responders and often arrive to the scene before the ambulance does. This allows them to asses the situation and report the details to EMTs when they arrive, but also allows them to issue citations.

The Police have a close relationship with the campus community. They participate in RA training, and certain classes such as sensitivity training and critical incident communication.

“We don’t consider Swarthmore College a separate entity from the Swarthmore borough,” said Craig.

On the role of PubSafe

in Columns/Opinions/Words of Wagner by

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!

Updated Clery data sheds light on crime trends

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According to the 2017 Annual Fire Safety and Security Report, last year resulted in the highest reported Violence Against Women Act offences since 2012, 19, and the first act of arson since 2012. Oppositely, larceny is the lowest since 2012, 36, as is burglary, 2.

The report, which Public Safety released on Sept. 29, details campus safety policies and crime statistics for the previous year, as required by the 1990 Clery Act. The act requires all colleges that participate in federal aid programs to publicly report such information annually.

The total reported VAWA offenses is largely due to the incidents of reported dating violence rising from six in 2015 to 15 in 2016, the highest number since 2012. Several administration members spoke about what work should be done going forward.

I don’t think we will rest until the number is zero in these reports and until we have a college campus where everyone can thrive and live without harm,” Women’s Resource Center Supervisor Shá Duncan Smith said.

Interim Title IX Coordinator Michelle D. Ray added that the Title IX office will continue to work diligently to support the Swarthmore community to stop, remedy, and prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Our policies are reviewed every year based on student, faculty, and staff feedback, and of course we also look very closely at what is shared with us by those who are most ​directly impacted,” she said in an email.

Neither commented on the spike in dating violence or mentioned potential policy changes in response to the numbers.

“We often see Swarthmore as an exception to a lot of these negative trends,” Lamia Makkar ’21 said. “Obviously these numbers aren’t to the same degree as a lot of other colleges, but this trend should be known and more actions should be taken.”

The decreased number of larceny and thefts, Hill said, can be attributed to a variety of things, such as students and community members reporting suspicious activity, securing personal valuables, and the implementation of technology tools on campus.

The college also reported 24 liquor law arrests — 18 of which were in residential facilities — and 33 alcohol violations. As a partial explanation for the numbers, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill outlined the liquor law arrest policy on campus.

“If someone calls for a friend and PubSafe determines the student is in need of medical evaluation and/or assistance, typically an ambulance will transport them to the hospital,” he said. “If the transported student is under the legal age of consumption, they can receive an underage drinking citation.”

According to Hill, after two court visits and several hours of community service and drug and alcohol education, first time offenders can erase the citation from their record.

Several community members see the policy as problematic.

Class Senator Akshay Srinivasan ’21 said the potential of getting a friend getting arrested could act as a deterrent to bystanders.

“Students would be less likely to report their friend being drunk because they would think their friend might be charged, but I don’t see a legal way out of it,” he said.

Vitor Dos Anjos ’21 said the problem isn’t with the school, but with the law.

“I think the problem is that the city of Swarthmore has the policy of immediately getting the police involved as soon as an ambulance is called,” he said. “If the ambulance is called and the person needs help, then the ambulance automatically breaks that person’s privacy rights by getting the police involved.”

Other schools had a dramatically discrepancies between alcohol arrests and violations: Williams reported four arrests and 343 violations; Middlebury one and 597, respectively. Hill did not comment directly on the comparison except for that every college is unique and has its own dynamics.

“It is difficult to address another institution’s statistics without knowledge of their institutional culture, policies, procedures, and the response and protocols from local law enforcement,” he said.

Both Hill and alcohol and other drugs counselor and educator Joshua Ellow called for a change in the school’s culture regarding alcohol.

Going out with the intention of getting wrecked can contribute to these numbers, but more importantly [it can] put community members at risk,” Ellow said. “Accidents do happen, but risk is directly related to the strength of our drinks (i.e., hard alcohol vs. light beer) and the pace at which we consume.”

Hill stressed that safety is our shared responsibility, and the college will continue to hold conversations to educate and raise awareness about alcohol and drug-related issues.

“W​ithin a small segment of our community, ​alcohol abuse is tolerated, and there is a lack of accountability to one another and for each other’s safety and actions,” he said. “In many instances by the time Public Safety is called, an individual is already in physical distress. There needs to be a larger conversation about the culture of AOD use and abuse.”

Several administration members said students are getting more comfortable with reaching out to Public Safety for help, although they did not attribute that fact to the high number of liquor law arrests or dating violence incidents.

“I think that our medical amnesty policy has led to more students calling for assistance when AOD problems arise. I see this as a result of our policy and the goal of getting students help in an emergency or risky situation,” Ellow said.

Hill added that although it would be better if individuals drank responsibly to begin with, he is impressed with the increasing number of students who have been willing to call in for help for a friend or even themselves for earlier intervention.

Ray said that’s what she had wished.

We hope that students have felt more empowered to speak up, that systems of reporting have become clearer, and additional trained personnel have helped make ​students feel freer to report.”

Although the numbers reported in the Clery Act are important to look over, they don’t always tell the complete story, according to Jonny Guider ’21. For example, he said, the stats could be a result of community members reporting more openly or a recent change in policy.

“The overall trends signify more than individual numbers,” he said.

OneCard expands access, increases options

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When the OneCard system at the college was launched in May 2016, it was implemented to create a single system that would enable students to have card access to most buildings on campus. Now, the OneCard serves as an ID, a key for more buildings on campus, a library card, and a way to access dining services on- and off-campus.

This year, the OneCard has expanded to grant students access to all dorms as well as more academic buildings, such as Beardsley, Trotter, and Pearson. In addition, an email from Paula Dale in September announced that the Swarthmore Campus and Community store would be accepting Swat Points on the OneCard for snacks, beverages, and health and beauty products.

Now the OneCard can also be utilized at another dining service on campus: Paces Cafe.

We no longer accept cash, but we take Swat Points (off-campus points) and Garnet Cash. The change in accessibility has created a spike in sales and put pressure on our staff,” Ahmad Shaban ’19, Paces director, said of the shift to Paces being on the meal plan.

While the OneCard has broadened dining options both on- and off-campus for students since its implementation, some students note drawbacks. Adan Leon 18 believes that the OneCard is only useful for Swat Points, points that can be used at exclusive vendors in the Ville.

In terms of living off-campus, [the OneCard] was helpful because I could use points at the co-op. If it weren’t for Swat Points, the OneCard wouldn’t be worth it,” Leon said.

Leon also finds the use of the OneCard by Public Safety for building access occasionally problematic. He believes these issues did not exist prior to the implementation of the OneCard and are a part of a larger transition for Public Safety.

“When I came here in fall 2013, Public Safety was very helpful and saw themselves as a service. I think [Public Safety] and its use [of the Onecard] is part of an overall shift towards security instead of service. For example, they don’t open the doors for students anymore. Because they have a registry they can easily access electronically, they are now able to deny students access to certain places,” Leon said.

In contrast, director of Public Safety Mike Hill highlighted the increased access that the OneCard provides.

Prior to OneCard, students would not be able to gain access after a certain time or would have to sign out a key from public safety; now students can study and work whenever they need to,” Hill stated in an email.

While the OneCard is viewed as beneficial to some and as an occasional annoyance to others, its capabilities can go beyond building access. The OneCard also has the ability to track the movements of individual students, though Hill wrote that Public Safety does not do so unless in cases of emergency.

“In an emergency or a situation where there is a concern for the safety of a community member, the Director of Public Safety, in consultation with the Care & Concern Team, is authorized to review where an individual entered or swiped last,” Hill wrote.

Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano hopes to expand the services of the OneCard to ensure greater security on campus.  

“Ultimately, the plan for OneCard is to have all campus buildings online. This helps reduce the number of keys, increases the security by being able to ensure doors are not left unlocked, and provides a way for students to keep track of multiple services in one, easy place,” Coschignano wrote in an email.

In addition, Coschignano sees the OneCard being tied into other systems, such as SEPTA,  as well as the OneCard offering a more comprehensive set of services in the future.

“We are still in the process of adding functionality to the OneCard program. As this evolves, students will eventually have one card that will keep track of a wide variety of services in one place,” Coschignano said.

The OneCard and its expansive role on campus indicate that it will continue to remain a part of the lives of Swarthmore students.

Events at Disorientation spur reflection on drinking culture

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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.”

 

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