Public Safety has recently begun enforcing a rule prohibiting drinking games, preventing Pub Nite from hosting beer pong and shutting down Delta Upsilon for playing a similar drinking game in the past month. Both locations hosted such games for at least the past three years, several upperclassmen said.
According to Public Safety records, an officer reported “unauthorized drinking games in Paces” on February 15 and DU was referred to the College Judiciary Committee for playing drinking games in the house around the same time. Neither group has offered beer pong since, and leaders of the fraternity refused to comment on the issue.
Many students expressed dissatisfaction with the change. Director of Public Safety Michael Hill said it’s a delicate balance for officers to build rapport and engage with students while enforcing college policy and state law.
“Sometimes it requires that Public Safety officer [must] make hard decisions around enforcement, which are unpopular with some segments of our community,” he said.
Dean of Students Liz Braun said that the drinking games policy — which prohibits “engaging in or coercing others into activities, games, and/or other behaviors designed for the purpose of rapid ingestion or abusive use of alcohol”— has always been enforced, although it might not have been visible to the student body.
However, despite the longstanding policy, students have noticed a change in enforcement.
“When I first came to Swat, PubSafe and school atmosphere was much more tolerant of drinking games, not cracking down unless hard alcohol was used or another school rule was broken,” Gus Burchell ’20 said. “I appreciated this, as in my experience, drinking games slow the rate of alcohol consumption and make the act more communal and checked, as opposed to drinking for the sake for drinking—which is what the recent increase in enforcement has made students resort to.”
The school tightened the reins on alcohol after the spring of 2013, a period when many student issues arose, by also banning any form of hard alcohol on campus. Institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Tufts have also banned beer pong—what Time magazine called one “of college kids’ favorite pastimes.”
Luke Barbano ’18, a Pub Nite leader, said students should not get upset about the administration enforcing the rules, but rather try to change the rules themselves.
“I think students are frustrated because they think that something has been taken away from them when in reality they had been getting away with something that wasn’t allowed to begin with,” he said.
Braun said the rationale behind the rule is the safety of the students. To allow students other social alternatives, she recommends getting creative.
“I’m hoping that students will work with us collaboratively and creatively to find ways to uphold this policy while still having fun at social events,” Braun said.
And they are. Since March 1, the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) has given Pub Nite around $150 to spend on food and other attractions to keep nightlife alive. Clare Pérez, another Pub Nite leader, said this opportunity gives students who might not engage in drinking games a chance to have fun on Thursdays.
In the past weeks, Swarthmore Queer Union co-hosted Pub Nite and featured blow up animals and coloring, and the Womxn’s Resource Center took over to offer free Qdoba and karaoke. Events have also been less beer-centric, as Shivani Chinnappan ’18 reported that attendees finished four boxes of wine but have yet to finish one keg of beer in the past two events, whereas in previous weeks, the group emptied two kegs a night.
“Pub Nite’s tradition certainly is not as a drinking games party,” Pérez said. “We want to reorient Pub Nite back towards its origins, as a unique Swarthmore tradition that appeals to the diversity of the student body instead of only a specific demographic.”
Despite this, many students believe that enforcing the drinking game ban kills an already dying party scene and promotes heavier drinking behind closed doors, as opposed to in a public space protected by resources like SWAT Team and party hosts.
Jonny Guider ’21 said that despite the recent reinforcement, beer pong is not going away.
“All the school has succeeded in doing is driving it underground,” he said. “Students are still going to play beer pong. Now they just have to do it covertly.”
Margaret Cohen ’19 agreed, adding that the prohibition of drinking games promotes binge drinking and is a form of self-sabotage on the school’s behalf.
“Students will likely feel the need to get over-inebriated to prevent any chance of ‘sobering up’ while out,” she said. “It is much more challenging to get alcohol poisoning from a glass of beer while casually drinking with friends at Pub Nite than from several shots of hard liquor taken before heading out.”
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that one shot of distilled spirits contains eight times more alcohol than beer, meaning it’s quicker and takes fewer drinks to become intoxicated drinking hard alcohol than drinking beer.
Cohen also said the increased enforcement is antithetical to the school’s anti-classist standard.
“Students from upper-class backgrounds can more easily pay to go into Philly to drink than less privileged students,” she said.
Swarthmore students are not alone in their frustration. When their alcohol policy tightened five years ago, Harvard’s student newspaper released a piece entitled “But Can We Play Beer Pong?” in hopes of maintaining the college tradition. The Huffington Post went as far to report that the culture at Dartmouth, another campus a distance away from a metropolitan area, worshiped beer pong.
Though many view beer pong as a rite of passage for college students, the war against beer pong has been an uphill battle. Turning drinking alcohol into a competitive game is a practice many believe attributes to binge drinking and, for many liability reasons, a nearly impossible one to sell to administrators.
In recent years, the national spotlight has turned to the unsafe aspects of college party culture, such as underage alcohol poisoning and sexual assault. Alcohol-related hospitalizations increased around 2013 at schools like Harvard and Dartmouth, resulting in their tightening of alcohol policies.
Other institutions chose a different way to tackle the issue. Kenyon College in Ohio repealed their drinking games ban because, according to Tammy Gocial, their Dean of Students, policy change is not enough. A cultural change is what’s needed, and the college developed a student-responsibility campaign to do so.
At Swarthmore, the administration continues to search for alternative, safer ways for students to have fun on weekends. Assistant Director of Student Engagement Andrew Barclay echoed Braun’s statement for students to give feedback on on-campus events that comply with the alcohol policy.
“I am always open to student feedback and look for opportunities to partner with students and help them turn their great ideas into programs that create a vibrant and diverse social life,” he said.