College Discusses Next Steps for New Party Policy
Issue   |   Wed, 04/30/2014 - 01:30

Three months after the introduction of Amherst’s new party policy, college staff members say that the policy has made some progress in creating safer and cleaner party conditions. Interim Dean of Student Conduct Suzie Mitton Shannon will meet with a group of students today to discuss possible next steps for encouraging a safer social scene at the college.

“I think that many of the goals that we set out to achieve with the party policy are being accomplished,” Mitton Shannon said.

The new policy was introduced on January 22, largely as a response to December’s Crossett Christmas parties. In an email to the student body in January, former Dean of Students Jim Larimore said that the party policy was in part a response to the “dangerous levels of overcrowding” and “unruly behavior” that occurred when an estimated 2,000 people converged on the social quad.

In an effort to promote safer party conditions and respond to student concerns about Amherst’s social environment, administrators introduced a pilot program that aimed to combat overcrowding and push parties into spaces other than the social dorms.

The new policy aims to make it easier for students to register parties in common spaces. It includes an option for students to register BYOB parties with fewer than 99 guests, in which the college permits students of age to bring their own beer and wine.

Association of Amherst Students President George Tepe ’14 said that the new options for party registration have encouraged students to look beyond the social dorms and host more parties on the Triangle and other campus dorms.

“We aren’t seeing the overcrowding in the socials like we used to,” Tepe said. “I think that’s attributed to the fact that you can have parties now in these bigger, brighter, safer, honestly more fun spaces on campus.”

Mitton Shannon said that she also saw the greater diversity of party spaces as one of the policy’s positive effects.

“Students were saying to me that they felt like the social scene at Amherst was not what they wanted it to be,” Mitton Shannon said. “In particular, parties were happening in the social residence halls, and they were in small spaces and didn’t provide a great opportunity for people to get to know one another. So one of the goals for the party policy was to have more party space spread out throughout campus.”

In discouraging crowding in the social dorms, Mitton Shannon said that administrators hoped not only to encourage better social interactions, but also to reduce safety issues that were occurring in the social dorms.

“Unsafe parties were parties where overcrowding was occurring and the stairwells were packed, so that it would make it problematic for any sort of emergency services to get out through the stairwells,” Mitton Shannon said.

Administrators and police officers were also concerned about the potential hazards of students dancing on windowsills, a frequent practice in the social dorms.

Mitton Shannon also said that since the policy was introduced, students who register parties have been doing a better job of monitoring the number of attendees at their events.

“I think for the most part the numbers are being contained, although there are certainly some examples where the numbers have grown too large and the party has been broken up,” she said.

According to custodial staff, the new party policy has also been successful at encouraging students to clean up after events.
“No question, the clean-up has worked great,” said Mick Koldy, who supervises the college’s custodial office. “I think when you empower students to take responsibility for themselves, it works. It’s a marked improvement over the way it’s been in the past, and we’re very supportive.”

The policy requires that students clean up after their parties by noon the following day, and Koldy said that students have been mostly observing this deadline.

However, administrators and police officers say that not all of the policy’s goals are being met.

“Opportunities for significant improvement remain in managing the presence of alcohol in accordance with college policy,” said Amherst College Police Chief John Carter.

Mitton Shannon agreed and said that she still hopes to reduce the amount of hard alcohol available at parties, because hard alcohol is responsible for many alcohol-related hospitalizations.

Although the party officially prohibits students from bringing hard alcohol to BYOB parties, hard liquor continues to be widely available at these events.

Hard liquor will be one of the issues Mitton Shannon hopes to address today, when she meets with a group of close to 30 students who have been involved with the college’s attempts to improve the student social experience. The group will discuss ideas for improving the party policy going forward, as well as the possibility of creating some type of student alcohol task force or peer education group.

“I think next year we should be talking more about beer pong and drinking games,” said Tepe, who is one of these students. He said that he hoped officially permitting beer pong would shift the focus away from hard alcohol consumption.

Tepe also said that going forward, he would like to see the option for students to register parties with less advance notice. Currently, students must register BYOB parties by 9 a.m. Thursday for a party over the weekend, or two business days in advance for a party during the week.

Connor Sholtis ’15 is another one of the students who will be giving Mitton Shannon feedback on the party policy’s progress.
“I think that the party policy has great advantages, and I think it’s on the right track, but I think that there are other steps that need to be taken in order to bridge the gap between the expectations of the students and expectations of the administrators,” he said.

He named the college’s hard alcohol policy as one of the areas in which he believes that students need to adjust their expectation.

“I think that refraining from hard alcohol use is a very small compromise in exchange for the freedom that the administration has given us in being able to have these sorts of parties,” he said.

For her part, Mitton Shannon said that she would like to see more students take advantage of the early warning system. Under this system, party sponsors can call the Amherst College Police Department in advance of their party to request an early alert if their party receives any noise complaints. If sponsors request an early alert, they will receive one warning from college police before the police intervene.

“I think about 50 percent of students who are registering parties are using the early alert system,” Mitton Shannon said. “So we need to do a better job of educating people.”

Mitton Shannon said that at today’s meeting, she hopes to think of more strategies for helping to educate students about the new policy. She said that some ideas that have already been discussed include training students to act as bystanders at parties, or organizing a group of students who can meet with hosts before a party in order to clarify any questions their peers might have.

Despite the policy’s unresolved issues, both administrators and student leaders say that the many aspects of the new policy have been receiving a positive response.

“I think that we should definitely keep the party policy, and I think we will,” Tepe said. “And I think we should keep working to improve it.”