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 Saturday’s Halloween party revealed concerns about new alcohol and safety policies on campus, as well as the role that Public Safety played in overriding students’ ability to determine how these policies are administered.
The party was the first large-scale event thrown by the Social Affairs Committee (SAC) since the creation of the wristband policy. This policy aims to decrease if not eliminate the amount of underage drinking at the college’s parties. However, student opinion of the strict measures enacted by the policy has been largely negative, with many arguing that the wristbands in fact lead to more pre-gaming and binge drinking amongst underage students on campus.
However, to many students, Public Safety’s implementation and enforcement of the new policy was more troubling than the policy itself. Students were surprised and upset by the increased presence of Public Safety officers at the entrance as well as on the first floor of Sharples.
When students arrived at the door, they were asked to empty any bottles they had with them through any means possible. This left students with two clear options: either to dump their beverages or to finish them. Students were then told to wait in line in order to have their IDs scanned and receive a wristband denoting whether or not they were 21.
Once inside the party, students were greeted by large orange and white police barricades that had been positioned around the drinks tables by Public Safety, barring students from easily accessing the drinks. Additionally, at least four Public Safety officers were patrolling the first floor of Sharples at all times, some of whom were acting as bartenders.
These measures were all departures from previous years, in which students had been able enter the party with relative ease and had minimal interaction with Public Safety inside the party.
“A lot of people used the word scary to describe [Public Safety’s presence], intimidating, like they were being watched,” Yuan Qu ‘14, a Residential Advisor (RA) as well as a member of StuCo, said in regards to how her residents felt about the increased presence of Public Safety officers.
Despite the large procedural changes that were seen throughout the night, Public Safety did not initially tell the two primary student groups responsible for organizing the party, SAC and Student Council (StuCo), of their plans. Their intentions to occupy a heavily visible and physically dominant role as crowd control and safety enforcers at the party — as opposed to the more understated presence they had assumed in the past — came as a surprise to all students involved in the party planning process.
“Public Safety met with us once…basically [they] indicated that their role would be similar to their role at previous large events,” SAC Co-President Josh Hallquist, ’14 said. “I was under the impression…that there would be one [Public Safety] officer in the party as there normally is.”
“I didn’t expect there to be a Public Safety in the atrium of Sharples. I saw one in the back door, which was consistent with my expectations. The one in the atrium was not,” he said.
The Daily Gazette reached out to Director of Public Safety Mike Hill for comments, but he did not respond.
Sun Park ’16, who was a Party Associate (PA) at the Halloween party, and is also a member of both SAC and StuCo, said that despite her expansive involvement with the preparations for Saturday evening, she was also unaware of how extensive Public Safety’s presence would be.
“On SAC we had discussed that there would be Public Safety officers like you would normally expect for large parties,” Park said, “but they didn’t actually mention anything about them being at the barricade. I don’t think there was a lot of communication there.”
As a PA, Park said that she found the barricades particularly unsettling, citing the imposing impression they gave students who saw them for the first time when walking down the stairs of Sharples.
“The barricade was definitely something not of [the PA’s] invention. [We] were like, ‘Wow, this is really aggressive and kind of hostile,’ Park said.
As students entered Sharples and saw the multiple physical barriers surrounding the drinks table, volunteers working at the party said they noticed students taking the opposite flight of stairs back up and out of Sharples. According to the volunteers, they saw the same students returning approximately an hour later visibly more intoxicated than they were upon first arriving at the party.
At the party policy forum hosted by StuCo on Tuesday night, many students voiced their concerns about this cycle of intoxication to Swarthmore administration and Public Safety representatives. Students expressed their opinion that, in the future, such strict enforcement of the wristband policy may continue to lead students to binge drink in the privacy of their rooms and dorms without the imposing presence of Public Safety.
However, others argue that despite policies, students themselves must recognize their shared responsibility in promoting a safe drinking culture — a responsibility that exists regardless of the College administration’s decisions.
“I get the feeling that people look after each other less. People are less willing to say, ‘Look, you need to stop drinking’ […] We are not looking after each other in a way that would allow us to have the freedom that we are used to,” Wharton RA Kenneson Chen ‘14 said.
Nevertheless, some students are still disturbed by Public Safety’s practices. Chairperson of Student Budgeting Committee (SBC) Jacob Adenbaum ‘14 fears that a student perception of an aggressive Public Safety may dissuade future communication between the two groups.
“I think that that kind of aggressive attitude that Public Safety took fundamentally makes this campus less safe, because it makes students afraid of Public Safety, it makes students hesitant to go talk to Public Safety when there’s a problem, and it sets up an adversarial role between Public Safety and the student body that we don’t need and we don’t want,” he said.
Aggressive has been a word that several students have resorted to to describe Public Safety’s tactics. According to StuCo Co-President Gabby Capone ‘14, it was the poorly communicated departure from previous years’ security practices that resulted in an uncomfortable environment for many students, due to their surprise and confusion upon arriving at the party.
Capone has also heard reports of students not being allowed to bring sealed containers of water into the party, as well as students not being allowed to bring in any sort of bags — even those that only contained parts of costumes.
“These were the kinds of behaviors that had nothing to do with the policy change that had been made,” she said.
In these and other ways, many students felt that Public Safety was overstepping their boundaries.
“It felt like the relationship you would have with a TSA official as opposed to one you would have with somebody who also lives in and is part of the campus community,” Qu said.
“I think that the party, if anything, really highlighted the change in relationship [between students and] Public Safety this year,” she continued. “We’ve usually been a campus that looks out for each other and cares for each other, Public Safety included, and now it feels, for a variety of reasons, that it’s more of a campus that is watching each other and policing each other and waiting for each other to trip and make a mistake, and that’s not ideal.”
In the past, Public Safety intervened directly to enforce the College’s over 21 drinking policy primarily if and when students’ safety was threatened. However, they allowed student-run parties on campus to begin under the supervision of the party hosts and continue without direct supervision.
Given the increased scrutiny placed on the college this year, Public Safety has taken on more responsibility for party oversight in what some feel to have been a forceful and excessive way. Many of these students said they perceived Public Safety was assuming more of a law enforcement role, perhaps at the expense of a more holistic understanding of student safety.
This is particularly concerning to students who have had negative interactions with Public Safety in the past, and do not feel comfortable with Public Safety officers taking such an active role in their social environment.
“A bunch of people have talked to me about how they felt that Public Safety was treating them very inappropriately and not being very sensitive towards them. I think that for the best interests of the students, Public Safety should play a decreased role,” Park said.
In the StuCo meeting held the Sunday after the Halloween party and the StuCo-hosted Party Policy forum held on Tuesday, students discussed at length the ways in which they could facilitate this decrease in Public Safety’s role.
Students are eager to prove to the administration and Public Safety that they have the capacity to enforce stricter policies with regards to alcohol for themselves, and overwhelmingly expressed a desire to resume the roles of responsibility that were taken away from them at the Halloween party. However, in order to do so, there must be a willingness amongst capable students to sacrifice their time in order to display their commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of party attendees.
“There is a dire need for a redress and a reassessment [of party planning], which would hopefully lead to people understanding that if they want a nice party and they want to enjoy it, they need to take the onus,” Chen said.
Many student leaders admitted that the student-run resources designed to ensure safety at parties fell short on Saturday night. According to Capone, there was limited communication between StuCo, SAC, and student groups such as SMARTeam, DARTeam, and the Party Associates (PA) program until a few days before the Halloween party.
During the week leading up to the party it came to Capone and StuCo’s attention that there would be no sober escort program at the party as well as no DARTeam presence. According to Co-President of SAC Michelle Yang ‘14, the DARTeam helped provide water for the party, but as party coordination continued, “both DART and SMART got left out of that physical safety role,” she said.
“People just couldn’t get connected […] None of this falls on SAC, this was really students as a whole failing to coordinate properly,” said Capone.
According to both Yang and Hallquist, as well as DARTeam Vice President Razi Shaban ’16, DART’s lack of involvement was in part due to the absence of an Alcohol Education and Intervention specialist at the college. In the past, the person in this position has overseen the training of DART team sober escorts, but this year that leadership was missing.
“I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault, it’s just an unfortunate circumstance that I couldn’t talk to an administrator who could say, ‘I will turn out a team of 20 people to do this task, and I personally trained them, etcetera,’” Hallquist said.
At both the StuCo meeting and the Party Policy forum, students proposed a larger presence of sober RAs at the parties, as well as the creation of a more systematic party planning program in order to prove to Public Safety and the administration that they are capable of personally running their own parties. With such programs, Capone feels the students’ mistakes on Halloween will not be repeated.
“There’s not going to be any coordination errors because everybody’s going to know what they need to do and from there we can try to imagine what the policy is going to look like for larger parties in the future,” she said.
Students have also suggested that changes to the PA program, particularly its training system, might be necessary as part of students’ efforts to regain responsibility from the administration.
According to Park, the PA program itself is a good one, it just needs more people and more extensive training.
Since the implementation of new policies requiring more PAs at every party, PAs are now forced to work several weekends in a row. This is a stark contrast to last year, when fewer positions meant that PAs had to enter a lottery to get a job. Park has gotten the impression that many of them are “burnt out,” as a result of this and are increasingly reluctant to work.
Furthermore, the Student Activities office has also created a new rule that PAs must not only stand at the door to parties, but be inside them as well. However, despite this drastic increase in responsibility, there has been no additional training for the PAs.
“We definitely need more training […] I feel like I don’t necessarily know what to do in a lot of situations […] I want people to do trainings so that they tell me ‘in this situation, here are all of your options, these are the things you should do’ so that when I’m in that situation I don’t have to freak out, I know, okay, from muscle memory, this is what I do,” said Park.
Changes to the PA program, increased RA presence at parties, and more systematic planning are only a few of the many changes to party preparations that students will undoubtedly continue to discuss in the coming weeks.
“If we want to have healthy dialogue and try to attempt to have some say in what our social scene will look like, we need student leaders and the greater student body to come together and have productive conversations,” Qu said.
Going forward, students recognize that they must put these words into action in order to drastically increase their efforts to protect their peers’ safety if they want the freedom to shape their own social scene.