Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last Wednesday, Student Council organized a conversation with the Deans to discuss the recent changes in the policies concerning social life on campus. In particular, the group discussed the new Paces fee, and the decision to begin enforcing the weekday ban on permits for parties that extend past midnight. The conversation was productive; students representing a broad cross-section of the student population articulated a number of concerns about the fee and about the Deans’ decision to begin enforcing the ban.
Students argued that the Thursday night party permit ban fragments social life and leads to dorm life disruption, that it turns the fraternities into an exclusive party space, that it encourages more intense pre-gaming, that it limits athletes’ social life, and that, by not sending out a formal email notifying them of the decision to enforce the ban, the Deans disrespected the student body.
The Deans, for their part, apologized for being unaware of how crucial post-pub nite frat parties were to many students’ social lives, and for not emailing the student body to inform them that they would be enforcing the ban. Dean Braun explained her rationale for enforcing the ban: the Deans had not realized the ban was being violated and the parties were always against school rules. She also justified her decision to not inform the student body of the enforcement of the ban: she was unaware that Thursday night frat parties had been an institution for at least the last four years. She emphasized that her knowledge of the party policies came from the Student Handbook.
The Gazette editorial board has been following the party permit issue very closely, and we would like to suggest that the student body and Deans meet again together, soon, to discuss the quickest way to change outdated school regulations so that the rules are compatible with Swarthmore social life as it has existed for, at least, the last four years.
Fraternities as a Public Space
It isn’t immediately clear why the majority of Swatties who do not go to the fraternities after Pub Nite should care that parties at the fraternities aren’t allowed to be open for business after 12:00 a.m. The issue, however, should be important to everyone. Swarthmore is a tiny school in a quiet suburb. Its social life is sustained by our school’s awesome sense of community and its public spaces. At Swarthmore, fraternities (which at many schools are exclusive bastions of hard-drinking men) are staffed by members trained to recognize dangerous drinking and sexual harassment. They are open to the entire student body, for no charge, almost every Thursday and Saturday night. The Deans, we have no doubt, recognize and appreciate this about our fraternities, and recognize the ways in which fraternities contribute positively to student social life. That means they should also recognize that the decision to enforce the ban forces fraternities to become exclusive, on what is often their biggest night of the week. Thus, the decision by the Deans takes away two public party spaces for the student body, makes it more difficult for students to mingle late on Thursdays, and will in the long run, be detrimental to the culture of fraternities on campus.
Safety and Loudness Concerns
It is important that the many students who drink at Pub Nite have public spaces to sober up, and it is important that the students who decide to continue drinking do so in the presence of students trained to help them if they drink too much. With the end of permitted parties after 12:00 a.m on Thursdays, many students may either go back to their dorms and continue drinking without supervision, or pregame even harder, knowing that alcohol will be scarce after 12:00 a.m. This is why so many RAs and DART trained members expressed their concern at Wednesday’s meeting that the deans’ decision would make Thursday nights more dangerous. It also means noted on Wednesday, that parties that were once at the fraternities are instead being moved to residence halls, which disrupts students who are not partying.
Leadership by the Deans
Wednesday’s meeting raised troubling concerns for The Gazette editorial board about how much Deans are actually in tune with social life on campus. None of the Deans or Deans’ Office staff in attendance—including Alcohol Education and Intervention Specialist, Tom Elverson—claimed to have any idea that these parties had been such an institution at Swarthmore. This is a problem, as Dean Braun graciously acknowledged, because Deans really should have a good idea about how, where, and when Swarthmore students party, but also because Public Safety was undoubtedly aware that these parties were going on. Does the Dean’s Office not coordinate with public safety? These are questions that, we have no doubt, the Deans are asking themselves.
But perhaps the most telling feature of the Wednesday meeting, was that no one – student or administrator – articulated any reasons why the parties should be banned. In part this was because the Deans are only “enforcing” the ban, not inventing it. But Dean Braun cannot be agnostic on the question of whether the ban should exist or not. If she is going to continue enforcing the ban, she should either state why she feels the ban is good, or work with student leaders to eliminate the ban. Either way, the authors of this editorial would like to hear her perspective on whether the ban should be in place or not.
Changing the Policy
Dean Braun was very helpful to students by suggesting avenues that students who disapprove of the new policy could use to ensure that their voices are heard. She suggested that, if the policy were changed, the Deans’ Advisory Committee would have some input, and that a change in policy would be considered once faculty, student council, and polls of the student body had been factored in. Dean Braun, did not, however, lay out the explicit protocol for changing the policy.
We ask that she, perhaps in coordination with the Student Council, send out an e-mail to the student body describing the step-by-step process that will need to be taken to change the existing policy. We also ask that she establish who, or what specific action, will actually determine whether the policy will be changed. If the Student Handbook is the official set of rules for the school, how do we change it? Will it be done based on a student vote? Based on deans vote? How exactly do faculty weight in? We would also like to know the time frame she envisioned for the decision. Students should push to have the decision made quickly, in the two months before December break, so that, if the policy is changed, Swarthmore social life can continue as it had. The Student Council took an important step towards engendering more student input, today, Tuesday November 7th, by sending out a poll to the student body asking about the Thursday party permit policy.