On the role of PubSafe

As the first half of the semester has gone by, returning students have noticed changes in the way that Public Safety has been interacting with students, from specific changes like PubSafe’s official Building Patrol Notice as well as general shifts in campus drinking culture that are attributed to stricter enforcement of drinking policies by Public Safety. These changes inspire reflection on what kind of campus students want to have, and whether it is attainable in the face of college policies and state laws. Public Safety’s job, first and foremost, is to keep students safe, and I am incredibly grateful that I feel like I can walk alone at night around campus and have someone to call if I was in an emergency. However, recent shifts feel like they have crossed a line from keeping students safe to keeping them in line.

The Building Patrol Notice has the best of intentions: get students to stop leaving their expensive items around campus and make them lock their doors. These are noble causes. I personally make sure to lock my door whenever my roommate and I aren’t in our building. It’s more secure to keep doors locked, and prevents all of the valuables I keep in my room safe. But students should have the right to decide whether or not they value the convenience of having their room unlocked more than the added safety. Swarthmore is a close-knit community, and dorm residents should be able to determine for themselves if they trust their dorm-mates enough to leave their door unlocked while they go to do laundry or even out for a jog. Public Safety should find a way to promote door locking and not leaving items unattended without going into dorms and locking doors and taking students’ items. If a student leaves their laptop on the main floor of McCabe while they walk to another floor to use the restroom, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not it will be there when it gets back. I certainly didn’t until it became official policy for PubSafe to take it if they choose; I trust my peers to both not take my stuff and to notice if someone who wasn’t a student tried to walk off with it. Swarthmore students are adults, and when I visited Swarthmore as a junior in high school, it seemed like I would be treated as such.

At that time, unbeknownst to me, the culture of drinking on campus was beginning to change. The DJ fund had been phased out, and the College was no longer funding PubNite either. Today, in my second year, I find the drinking culture here chilling. For many students, the average drinking options are the large parties thrown by the frats or drinking in their dorms. The requirement for parties of 10 attendees and over to be registered means that a student who wants to get together with nine friends would not only have to register the party, but take on the legal responsibility for whether or not attendees under 21 consume alcohol. Because the hosts of registered parties are legally responsible for attendees of their parties, smaller parties are harder to host despite being much safer than a party at DU. If PubSafe came to a small registered party without being called and an attendee under 21 was drinking, it is much easier for the College to prove that the host knowingly allowed that person to drink illegally, which would have massive ramifications for that person. Conversely, there is a lot of plausible deniability for the hosts of all-campus parties because of the size of the parties and the fact that they are open to campus. Everyone knows that people under twenty-one are being served beer at open parties, yet a host of a small party takes on a higher degree of risk despite the much lower risk involved in a small, casual get-together compared to a packed frat party. The focus for Public Safety and the College should be on mitigating risk.  Making it difficult for small parties to happen when they are safe outlets for students to drink does a disservice to students on this campus. Carding students without cause and confiscating alcohol from dorms also goes against the idea of mitigating risk and keeping students safe because if students fear Public Safety they will not go to them when they actually need help.

The national drinking age and state laws also are incredibly problematic in keeping students safe. Pennsylvania does not provide medical amnesty for students who are ill due to the effects of alcohol. For international students, getting arrested for underaged drinking due to having to go to the hospital could threaten their ability to remain in the United States or to seek United States citizenship if they choose. This puts international students and their friends in a tough position: call Public Safety when their friend is too drunk but risk them having to go the to hospital and the automatic arrest that comes with it, or wait and hope their friend ends up okay? The enforcement of the drinking age on Swarthmore’s campus is of course, the law, but the lack of medical amnesty creates dangerous situations and perverse incentives. The State of Pennsylvania should make students feel like it’s better to be safe than sorry when calling for help by providing medical amnesty to underaged individuals. 

Students tend to pregame hard in their dorms with hard liquor and then go out because of stricter enforcement by Public Safety at parties. Pregaming is dangerous, because it mainly features hard alcohol and students attempt to drink too quickly. Strict enforcement of the drinking age at open parties pushes students into hiding in secrecy, and fear of citation makes them not want to call for help if they need it. The current amnesty policy, that the caller gets amnesty, means nothing because students are still hesitant to cause their friend to get cited if it turns out the situation was not as serious as they thought. Public Safety should change their approach to be less punitive in order to build a culture where students don’t feel that they have to dangerously pregame.

The role of Public Safety should be to help students when they need help and to prevent unsafe situations from occurring. Over-enforcement of the alcohol policy and taking students’ things if they are left even briefly unattended does not accomplish either of those tasks. The lack of medical amnesty in state policy make students less likely to seek help. Public Safety should refocus their charge to student safety, not arbitrary rule enforcement. 

Laura Wagner

Laura '20 is from Dover, Delaware. She is in the honors program studying political science and economics. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, her interests include running, politics, and really good books.

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