Changes to Alcohol Policy Draw Criticism from Students

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.

Each year a group of deans, with input from faculty, staff, student surveys, and the Dean’s Advisory Council, updates the The Swarthmore Student Handbook. Small changes in policy are made every year, but this year’s handbook features some attention-grabbing additions to the Alcohol and Other Drugs section of the Student Code of Conduct.

Per Swarthmore’s website, this section of the handbook is “a summary and explanation of the rights, responsibilities, and rules governing student conduct” at Swarthmore. While the infractions listed are not an exhaustive list, a student found in violation of any of the rules set forth by the Handbook can be subject to discipline.

In addition to maintaining violations from previous issues of the handbook (which forbade underage drinking, or providing alcohol to anyone under 21, among others) three additions were made to the Handbook’s Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) policy, which forbids:

  1. “the use of common sources of hard alcohol, especially punches and party bowls;”

  2. “engaging in or coercing others into activities, games, and/or other behaviors designed for the purpose of rapid ingestion or abusive use of alcohol (e.g., use of paraphernalia such as funnels, keg stands, “around-the-world” parties, flip cup, quarters, beer pong, Beirut, power hour, and other alcohol consumption based on speed and/or volume, etc.)”

  3. hard alcohol at any “registered campus parties”

The AOD policy can be found on page 29 of the Handbook’s online .pdf (a print copy of Handbook will not be provided to students this year, due to environmental concerns) or on this page of Swarthmore’s website.

These additions to the policy quickly caught the eye of students, few of whom looked on the change positively. Catherine Martlin ‘15 made a post on the Swarthmore Class of 2015 Facebook group shortly after the handbook was sent out, expressing concerns over the impact the new policy might have on students. In a conversation with The Daily Gazette, Martlin repeatedly expressed frustration with what she called the administration’s “PR,” saying that she doesn’t “necessarily think their decisions have been wrong, but their communication has been very bad.” Martlin, who has served both as an RA and as a member of the Student Budget Committee (SBC), said she has had “lots of jobs” where she interacted with the administration, but “time after time after time we have these changes and they’re announced by someone [she’s] never met.”

Martlin was not the only student to express apprehension over the changes. Alex Moskowitz ‘15 thinks that this unexpected and ill-received change is symptomatic of larger problems at Swarthmore, saying that “dialogue has been both implicitly and explicitly promised, by the school’s foundational values and the words of the various administrators, but has been pointedly avoided.” While he does not necessarily agree with the changes made to the AOD policy, Moskowitz said “the way these decisions are made are likely more hurtful than the the decisions themselves” due to the feeling among the student body that “the administration is hidden away from us in the second floor of Parrish.”

“Policies,” Moskowitz said, “must be formed and announced so that by the time they reach students, we understand what happened and why it did.”

Lili Rodriguez, Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development, said that while some students may think the policy is “incredibly highly regulated,” it’s in fact “a little broader” than the peer institutions reviewed by the deans. This policy, said Rodriguez, is essentially asking students to not “peer pressure” others into drinking heavily. Rodriguez also clarified that the policy focused on paraphernalia because it is “obvious” to see: “Anything can be a drinking game,” she stated, but “it’s going to be easier to spot a funnel than to determine whether the poker game people were playing was leading to rapid consumption of alcohol.”

These policies were developed, said Rodriguez, after many broad conversations about Swarthmore’s “social scene, social spaces, and how students spend their time outside of the classroom.” Student input, specifically, came in the form of responses to surveys like those conducted by the ACHA (American College Health Association) and COFHE (Consortium on Finance in Higher Education). These surveys, Rodriguez explained, “tap into perceptions and behaviors related to drugs and alcohol use, risky behaviors, satisfaction with social life, academic issues, and a host of other relevant things.” Rodriguez stressed that she does not see alcohol and the campus social scene as separate from other problems on campus: other issues, such a class and racial tension, or dissatisfaction with the way sexual assaults are addressed, all contribute to the “campus climate” and need to be addressed.

When asked how the policy would be enforced, Rodriguez said that there is no reason “informal gatherings” that are “not dangerous, not disruptive, and not hazing” would get on the radar. Rodriguez said that the college would continue to employ SwatTeam members at officially registered parties, such as Pub Nite and parties thrown at Paces, Olde Club, and the fraternities. She added that the administration hopes that students will share responsibility and act as good bystanders.

Rodriguez has spoken with students both in favor of and strongly against the change and said that there is “always room for improvement” when it comes to crafting an effective policy for the campus. “Institutions,” she said, “should constantly be evolving. We want this to be a community thing.”

Allison Hrabar

Allison is double major in Political Science (Honors) and Film and Media Studies. When not working for The Daily Gazette, she cajoles people into watching the The Americans (Wednesdays at 10:00p.m. on FX).


  1. I think there’s a debate to be had about some of the new rules, but just to pick out what really doesn’t make sense to me.

    My time at Swarthmore was largely spent with a crowd of people with varying degrees of interest in alcohol. Many drank a lot, many drank some, and many drank minimally or not at all.

    1. Those who drank a lot did so because they felt like it and they were never interested in compelling anyone else to follow suit. That’s not to say that peer pressure to drink never happens, but I’m suspicious of the idea that it’s something that’s prevalent enough at Swarthmore to necessitate targeted policy.

    2. Beer pong? Really? As someone who has played beer pong exactly 0 times and who never has been and never likely will be interested in playing it (I don’t like beer, the mechanics of the game don’t interest me), I am surprised to see a specific ban of such an innocuous game. Sure, there are people who make it a spectacle of drunkenness, but that’s not something I’ve ever, ever seen up close despite the game’s popularity among many people I hung out with at school. A few splashes of beer in a few cups split by a team over the course the game is hardly a dangerous level of alcohol consumption. I’ve also seen plenty of accommodations made for people’s interest in consuming or ability to consume beer, like playing with water or decreasing the volume, etc. Why does this harmless game that’s really just an excuse to cheer about something and brag about your aim need to be banned? Am I missing something?

  2. Anyone have any insight into what the relationship between alcohol and class and racial tension is at Swarthmore?

  3. Guess who gives zero shits about college students’ opinions on whether or not alcohol should be served to minors? Everyone in law enforcement.

    It’s illegal. If you have a problem with it, take it up with legislators. This is not within Swarthmore’s locus of control.

    • What if you are over the age of 21? These rules apply to everyone, so I guess fully legal adults can’t be trusted to play beer pong.

    • Few if any college students are minors. Most are at least 18 years old.

      It is true that many college students are below the legal age for alcohol.


  4. omg this is seriously the most basic thing I’ve ever read. like I can’t even manage to give a genuine, full fledged eye roll toward the admin on this because it’s just so basic… all I can manage is like a half eyeroll, where I can’t even let the viewer see the extent of my eye roll because giving the full eye roll would suggest possible validity to this policy — that it’s not completely obvious that this policy is STUPID BASIC.

    Will this policy apply to reunions? Are alumni allowed to play flip cup when we come back? Will that be ok? What if we plan to engage in games with the purpose of rapid ingestion of alcohol? Is that ok? Will a PA our junior reprimand us?

    So will students just now go to the crumb to drink?

    Seriously — can the admin with a straight face — indeed genuinely — defend these rules? Why do spring semester seniors need these rules? They’re about to venture into the world where there aren’t these rules to protect them!! WILL THEY BE OK?!?! If they’re apparently prepared to face the world, why aren’t they prepared in their fall semester, or in the spring semester of their junior year…? #I_CANNOT

    Basically this policy is stupid basic: It exacerbates aspects of the Swarthmore bubble that __actually limits__ full fledged personal growth at a time when achieving personal growth IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.


  5. First of all, to those saying ‘drinking is illegal’ – duh. I’d like to remind you of how well forcing drinking underground worked in the 1920s.

    Anyway, for my bit: as a member of the class of 2011, I am continuously astounded at the administration’s ability to slowly remove from Swarthmore any semblance of the social freedom to be ridiculous young people or have outrageous fun. It’s telling to me how, after years of ignoring the problem of a pathetically inadequate sexual assault reponse and policy, other changes completely unrelated to those ‘revelations’ began to roll out only immediately AFTER widespread negative press. Why not just change the college’s name to ‘Small, Elite, East Coast Private School (TM)’? As a former photographer for the Phoenix, I would sometimes leaf through old yearbooks from 5, 10, 15 years prior. The Swarthmore I saw in them was a very different place than the glossy, sanitized version I saw in my friends’ yearbooks even just one year after graduation.

    The notion of ‘helicopter parenting,’ with children not trusted with the simplest aspects of everyday life, is a well-known phenomenon that arose sometime in the 90s. I shudder at the possibility that some of these very same parents are now joining the ever-burgeoning ranks of higher education administration.

    There are things that we all wished the powers that be had done, things that should have been fixed at Swarthmore. But they didn’t, for years. And now, you call THIS meaningful change?

  6. “This policy, said Rodriguez, is essentially asking students to not “peer pressure” others into drinking heavily.”

    So why wouldn’t you ask students not to “peer pressure” others into drinking heavily?

    Why wouldn’t you put effort into educating the (non-existing) mob about the dangers of peer-pressuring others into drinking heavily?

    Why wouldn’t you put effort into forming characters able to resist such peer-pressuring?

    Why does the administration make unnecessarily restrictive rules to a problem that didn’t really exist a few years ago and likely still doesn’t exist?

    Come on, don’t BS us.

  7. So let me get this straight. Instead of dealing with the actual issues at Swat like sexual assault and the generally shitty mental health of students (especially as trauma and mental illness can exacerbate substance abuse), the administration is attacking student behaviors like consuming mixed drinks or playing beer pong? What a way to deflect from the true problems here. We have an administration that wants to sweep everything under the rug because applications to Swat were WAY down last year and they know it’s due to bad press.

    The issue here – aside from the fact that the school wants to restrict entirely legal consumption of alcohol by students over 21 – is that the administration has fucked itself over by proving that students cannot trust it. Years of ignoring or downplaying sexual assault allegations have made the administration look bad and uncaring. But they think the best course of action is to unilaterally change alcohol policies in a way that will drive drinking underground and end campus traditions like pub nite (i.e. they don’t care about or listen to students)? That eliminating hard liquor from the parties where PAs will be will make students safer (i.e. safety is less of a concern to the admins than fault and the possibility of legal repercussions)? I’m not sure what the administration is thinking because this sort of action just tells students and alumni that Swarthmore is primarily concerned about covering its ass, not the student experience. They are attempting to rewrite the narrative, changing it from “inept administration wants to look good so ignores bad things” to “kids today can’t drink without being peer-pressured or getting assaulted and we have to protect them from themselves.”

    It would be a positive step to change the culture around drinking in college, but that’s not something Swarthmore can do alone, especially not by simply prohibiting or limiting the use of alcohol. Quite frankly, drinking at Swat is FAR less of an issue than it is at the vast majority of other colleges. Is there any scientific evidence that these rules will positively impact the culture of drinking? Most of us have seen how much more out of control drinking is at schools with stricter rules, so anecdotally this seems like a bad path to choose.

    Ultimately, members of the Swat community are going to realize that all the talk of consensus has become PR and is no longer how Swat truly operates. I served on a significant committee as a senior so I speak from experience when I say that the students on that committee are essentially for show. The real decisions are made based on the president’s mercenary evaluation of financial concerns and the arguments of a few vocal (and well-placed) professors who are strongly pushing for their departmental interests. I wish I could be more optimistic about this issue. Unfortunately, Swat’s administration has a lot of work to do if it wants to restore trust and make Swarthmore an awesome community I can wholeheartedly embrace once again.

  8. I am confused by the justification of the new policy as combating “peer pressure”. I never drank while I was at Swarthmore, and never once felt pressured to do so. In fact, I used to tell all my specs that one of the really great things about Swarthmore was that no one cared how much you drank, and you could be good friends with people who drank a lot, a little, or anywhere in between without it being weird!

  9. Lili Rodriguez and Liz Braun represent everything that’s gone wrong with the school. After a declaration like that it should also be stressed that there are great administrators at the College, and the vast majority of administrators *do* care about the welfare of students (Dean Anderson, e.g. – she is a saint), but a few rotten apples have completely destroyed any semblance of integrity in the administrative process. This is being done to cover their own asses.

    Here’s one example: Braun won’t talk to the student press – no exceptions, ever. Seriously? There is no accountability and no transparency for administrative decisions, like the questionable decision that Liz Braun made when she chose to produce and publish laughably bad white pride poetry (see:


    Lili Rodriguez – Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Development – has been spearheading a huge operation to interrogate students and search rooms for pot. The College will act on anonymous ‘tips’ about Joe Schmoe possessing a bong in Willets within hours, but sexual assault investigations take weeks to get off the ground. I guess that’s what the College considers community development — your tuition, hard at work…

    From what I understand, at least four students were hospitalized last weekend and a student was cuffed and arrested on campus property this weekend. The argument being levied against the alcohol policy changes is that outlawing student behavior has no practical effect on the behavior’s occurrence – in this case, they’re just pushing liquor and pong into dorms and small gatherings, where PA’s and party policy regulations intended to keep students safe cannot help one bit. There hasn’t been enough time to fully evaluate this policy change and we don’t really have a counterfactual to hang our hats on, but it should be noted that the number of hospitalizations and arrests this year appears to be up dramatically from past years. It’s bad policy.

    • Thanks for sharing that video, the poem is really profound. “I am no longer just a woman, I am a white woman (…) it’s like I had been getting dressed and suddenly I noticed a mole that had never been there

      It’s embarrassing that the Dean of Students had no concept that she considered white the norm until after she’d been hired to be a representative for all students, and that she would choose to actually write and share this with the world (and as a leader of our college). Maybe this is why she won’t speak to student publications?

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