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