The college has updated the Garnet Pledge, a set of expectations and precautions designed to make on-campus learning as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike last semester when all alcohol was banned on campus, the college now allows students who are 21 or older to possess limited amounts of “soft” alcohol, and residential students can now visit one another’s dorm lounges — as long as standard masking and distancing protocols remain in practice.
On January 29, Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Terhune emailed the student body to offer encouragement for the coming semester and to present the new pledge. Terhune explained the updates were made “based on [the administration’s] experiences in the fall and in consultation with the Student Life Expectations Subcommittee,” which was created in May 2020 to help craft the pledge. Its seventeen members include faculty and staff from various departments and four current students.
On the Swarthmore College 2020-2021 Facebook page followed by over 1,200 Swarthmore students, many posts and comments voice frustration over what students see as unclear expectations for those living on-campus. Summer Heidish ’22, who has returned to campus for the first time since last year, echoed this exasperation.
“The Pledge is so vague sometimes, and that’s frustrating,” Heidish said in a message to The Phoenix. “Swat students, by and large, are well-intentioned and want to protect each other and the greater community, but I think half the battle with getting students to follow [the Garnet Pledge] is just having them understand it.”
In an email to The Phoenix on February 17, Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Nathan Miller, who coordinated the Student Life Expectations Subcommittee, clarified certain policies and explained the reasoning behind the most significant changes.
Alcohol allowed, with limitations
Students aged 21 or older may now keep and drink alcohol on campus, although some restrictions remain. According to Miller, students can possess no more than 72 ounces of beer or 750 milliliters of wine, which is the equivalent of a six-pack of beer or one bottle of wine. Dani Gómez ’22, an RA who has attended meetings with the administration about the changes, told The Phoenix that White Claws are still permitted. Drinking must be confined to individuals’ dorm rooms with no more than one other person — all while masking and distancing as usual.
The administration decided to allow only specific amounts and types of alcohol based on broader concerns about students’ ability to adhere to other elements of the Garnet Pledge while under the influence.
“The Expectations Subcommittee remained concerned with the impact that hard alcohol consumption would have on one’s responsible decision making in relation to critical aspects of the Garnet Pledge, specifically in relation to social distancing and wearing a mask,” Miller wrote.
Gómez thought allowing some form of alcohol to on-campus students this spring was the right approach for the administration to take.
“The majority of campus will have been at Swat for several years, and so they’re going to have a certain expectation of how their social life is,” Gómez said. “I think it’s better this semester that there is some legal way to drink and to not have to make it be a Garnet Pledge violation.”
For Laura Hirai ’22, an international student experiencing both pandemic-altered semesters on campus, the decision to allow alcohol is a sign of the administration giving well-deserved trust to students.
“Kudos to admin and all that for trusting the juniors and seniors to be responsible with their alcohol intake and not using it for parties,” Hirai said.
While several students who lost housing privileges last semester were found to be in the possession of alcohol, Miller indicated this pledge violation was not the primary reason they were sent home.
“Approximately two dozen students lost their housing privileges in the fall semester as a result of a deliberate, reckless, or repeated violation of the Garnet Pledge. No student lost their housing privileges solely as a result of, for example, possessing alcohol,” he wrote.
Visiting other residence halls
Under new pledge guidelines, students are allowed to visit one another in their respective dorm common spaces, whereas last semester, guests were only allowed in individual dorm rooms. Students may only host one guest at a time, and full compliance with standard masking and distancing procedures is required. Like last semester, no off-campus students may set foot on campus, and no on-campus students may invite them.
Miller explained that this change is part of an effort to clarify the pledge’s residential guest policy. Some students felt the rules were unclear as to how many guests were allowed in common spaces. NPPR residents who were removed from campus last semester expressed confusion on this policy, which is one of the rules they were found to have violated.
Addressing seemingly contradictory language in the updated pledge, Miller wrote, “the statement ‘Students are prohibited from using their own OneCard to allow access into a campus facility for another person’ is intended to restrict the act of simply allowing another person to access a campus facility, including one’s own residence hall. This restriction does not apply when a student is providing access to their residence hall for a guest they are hosting.”
Madeline Clay ’24 spent her first semester of college on campus this fall when hosting guests in dorm common spaces was technically not allowed. In Clay’s view, the residential policy change doesn’t have much bearing on actual student behaviors.
“The new rules sound a little save-facey to me … they can put it on the record now, but everyone was kind of [visiting each others’ dorms] last semester anyway,” she said.
Clay didn’t see this as a cause for grave concern, though, given that only fourteen on-campus students tested positive for COVID-19 in the fall.
New guidelines for leaving campus
The pledge update introduced a new procedure for requesting travel permissions from the college. This semester, students traveling for medical appointments, nonmedical emergencies, or any overnight visits must get their plans approved via the Emergency Travel Request Form. Students do not need to use the form for essential errands, like for groceries or medicine. Still, the college might have students isolate or revoke their housing privileges if their travel is deemed unnecessary or in violation of the Garnet Pledge.
Last semester, the college revoked housing privileges from at least two students for taking nonessential trips off-campus to nearby cities, according to a Sept. 9 email by Dean Terhune.
Specifications for NPPR Residents
Some of the more subtle additions to the pledge are geared toward residents of the NPPR apartments. The previous pledge contained no express guidance for these students; however, the new pledge specifies that masking and distancing are still required among NPPR residents in common suite spaces (including shared living rooms and kitchens). Additionally, only suite residents may consume their alcohol in the shared space and not in the presence of guests — which otherwise may not exceed one per suitemate (or five guests, plus five hosts, total). These additions serve to reiterate the ban on unregistered parties in violation of the pledge, at least one of which took place in the NPPR apartments last fall and resulted in disciplinary action.
TJ Chapman ’23, who lived in the NPPR apartments last semester, addressed the NPPR-specific language in the pledge and whether residents of the apartments merited a reputation for disregarding safety measures.
“I don’t think [student behavior] was different [in NPPR] because … let’s be real and honest about this. There were students everywhere on campus, whether that was in NPPR, or any other dorm that were hanging out in their lounges,” Chapman said.
While the national increase in vaccine distribution gives cause for hope, the updated Garnet Pledge states, “If a student has been vaccinated against COVID-19, all of the mitigation measures described in the Pledge must still be adhered to.”
Miller stressed it’s too early to know whether Garnet Pledge rules could change if the entire student body received a COVID-19 vaccination.
“The College is continuously monitoring the development of vaccinations in the United States and the possibility of providing vaccinations on campus,” Miller wrote. “It is unclear at this moment how the Garnet Pledge could potentially change if all residential students were vaccinated. The college would also need to take into consideration the successful vaccination of other members of the campus community. If vaccinations on-campus were to occur, the college will continue to be consistent with both Pennsylvania and federal requirements and aligned with the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the best available guidance based on science from the medical community.”
In the meantime, students remaining on campus and others returning for the first time since the pandemic began almost a year ago have mixed reactions to being back.
“I tried really hard not to come with expectations because I knew it would be different,” Heidish wrote. “I’m so, so grateful to finally be on campus again, but it is challenging to not draw comparisons to other years. Physically it’s the same space, but socially it’s really not.”
Nevertheless, on-campus students, many of whom are juniors and graduating seniors, have reason to hold out hope for a satisfying — albeit unconventional — semester at Swarthmore. First-years and sophomores, meanwhile, are impatiently awaiting their chance to return.
Chapman expressed his well-wishes to the upperclassmen.
“I hope everybody has fun and enjoys it,” Chapman said. “Plus, they’re there in the spring. I have yet to be there in the spring to see the flowers bloom and the trees look beautiful, so I’m a little jealous.”