Administrators take heat at party policy forum

Sixteen Feet sways to a Justin Timberlake song
Photo by Elèna Ruyter '14

Following a controversial decision to take extra measures to bar those under 21 from obtaining alcohol inside the annual Halloween Party, Student Council (StuCo), in conjunction with administrators and Public Safety, held a forum to discuss the school’s party policies and present student feedback.

The meeting, which took place on Tuesday night, began with presentations from Mike Elias, the student activities coordinator, Lili Rodriguez, dean of diversity, inclusion and community development, Mike Hill, director of Public Safety, and Joanna Gallagher, deputy director of Public Safety. After the presentations, students were given the opportunity to share their opinions and ask administrators questions, followed by a discussion among students without administrators present.

Response was overwhelmingly negative. Students, including StuCo members, criticized the school for making the changes without consulting or informing students, accusing Public Safety and administrators of implicitly encouraging risky binge drinking.

Attendees in particular expressed displeasure for the increased presence of Public Safety officers inside the party and the barricade placed in front of the bar, saying that both led to an exclusionary and fearful atmosphere.

While Hill acknowledged that the barricade “could be nicer,” he and other administrators were steadfast about the changes, including increased Public Safety presence. In her introduction, Rodriguez asserted that the school’s prior system risked being out of line with Pennsylvania state law.

“We cannot knowingly break the law,” she said.

Hill emphasized the fact that the school was currently under scrutiny, including from the federal government, referring to it as the “elephant in the room.”

Technically, Elias said, the school’s party policy had, in fact, changed very little, and largely consisted of two changes to the party policy — one requiring students to say what kinds and quantities of alcohol they are providing and one requiring hosts to indicate how many party associates (PAs) are needed. Elias, however, said that for parties run by the social affairs committee (SAC), the host was essentially StuCo, meaning that in effect, “the institution hosts.” For these reasons, he said, the liability for serving alcohol to minors was on the college.

Administrators also challenged the assertion from students that stricter policies would result in riskier drinking behavior, saying that there was no evidence to suggest that that would be the case. Hill, for example, said that the difference in medical transports at this Halloween was not significant, with five this year as opposed to four at last year’s party.

But many students and attendees, including some from StuCo, disagreed. Many students reported seeing far more vomit than they had at past parties. The decision led StuCo to apologize to the student body in an e-mail sent on Monday afternoon. “The way things transpired on the ground as a result of our decision was due to unpredictable factors outside of our control and far from what we desired for the event,” the email said. “We want to thank SAC [the Student Activities Committee] for all of their very hard work in throwing a fantastic party, but we regret that our decision had unsafe consequences on students.”

Jacob Adenbaum ’14, the chairman of student budget committee (SBC), said he was deeply dissatisfied by the tone of the meeting. “ I was remarkably distressed by the lack of the dean’s commitment to student safety,” he said. “And I thought that the tone that they set was one that was much more concerned with other institutional interests as opposed to the safety interests of the students.”

Josh Hallquist ’14, a co-director of SAC and one of the students in charge of planning Halloween, said the party felt less controlled and safe then in previous years. “I felt very specific policy decisions, not made by SAC, in the hours before the party resulted in an unfortunate phenomenon of students leaving to binge drink, creating a generally chaotic environment later in the night,” he said.

Hallquist said that he watched students enter the party, see the barrier by the bar, leave, and return later appearing more intoxicated than before.  “I am not sure the administration realized the additive effect of an orange and white barricade would have on students leaving and returning,” he said.

In general, he described the policies as not ideal. “I think student rage is a good indicator that working within these policies will be challenging,” he said.


The Phoenix will have more extensive coverage of policy changes and student reactions, including additional comments from Mike Elias and other students, in the coming days. Check our website for updates. 

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