Students Search for Clarity in Party Registration Policy
Issue   |   Wed, 04/17/2013 - 11:59
Photo Courtesy of Chief John Carter
Only about 40 parties are officially registered with the school each year, even though campus police records shutting down upwards of 140 parties each year.

This is the first of a two-part series on the College’s alcohol policy. The second part will be in next week’s issue.

According to the Dean of Student Activities’s web-page, all parties must be registered with the College if any of the following conditions apply: College funds are used, common or public space is used, the party is being advertised, when alcohol is being served in a common or public space. In order to register a party, students must complete a party notification form including the date, time, location and expected attendance of the event and turn in the form to the Dean of Student Activities at least five business days in advance of the event — two weeks in advance if expected attendance is 75 or more or if alcohol will be served.

Additionally, the sponsor of the party must meet with the Dean of Student Activities in order to review College policy and the details of the party notification form and fill out a common area reservation form in order to guarantee the space at which the party will take place. Once this has been done, the sponsor of the party must distribute the completed party notification forms to the Campus Police Department and in some cases to the Lead Party Monitor as well, as determined by the Dean of Student Activities. Moreover, in order to be eligible to be registered as a party, the event must take place in one of the College’s “designated campus-wide party venues:” Crossett and Stone basements, Seelye and Hitchcock first floors, Lipton first floor and basement, Keefe Campus Center, O’Connor Commons, Alumni and Lefrak gymnasiums and several outdoor locations.

According to Hannah Fatemi, Dean of Student Activities, party registration is important for ensuring student safety and compliance with College policies.

“The college’s party policy has been approved by the College to facilitate the planning of safe and successful parties and events, to assist in the adherence to college policies and procedures, to comply with Town of Amherst and Massachusetts laws and regulations and to ensure sufficient time for the coordination of facilities, support services and security,” Dean Fatemi said.
However, the difficult and confusing nature of this process has meant that the vast majority of parties at the College — only about 40 parties are officially registered with the school each year, even though campus police records shutting down upwards of 140 parties each year for noise complaints and other violations. Additionally, the limited number of spaces listed as “designated party spaces” has meant that students wishing to hold parties in other venues have been unable to have their events registered. For example, Monica Cesinger ’15, president of Marsh Arts House, recalls struggling to have Marsh Mardi Gras, an annual event that has had no problems in past years, registered as a party with the College.

“I went in to try to register Marsh Mardi Gras as a party, because it’s something that has happened in Marsh for years, and it’s kind of a tradition. Nothing seems to have been wrong with it in previous years, but when I went to register it as an event, Dean Fatemi said that no parties would ever be allowed to be registered in Marsh,” Cesinger said. “I thought that was kind of strange because I’ve been to parties in Marsh, and they’re just a completely different social experience than parties in the Socials. I asked her why Marsh was allowed to have registered events like Coffee Haus but not parties, and she said that it was because it was an event, not a party. I asked her what the difference was between an event and a party and she said that a party has a DJ and people dancing, while Coffee Haus does not.”

Dean Fatemi confirmed this distinction between events and parties and said that the distinction resulted from the Massachusetts crowd management law passed in 2011, which requires that there be a designated crowd manager whenever there is a gathering with amplified music and dancing in a room with a capacity of 99 or more.

“Students can have campus-wide gatherings, but it has to be in a venue that is designated to accommodate a dance party. The goal is always to try to give students options to help them create the program and experience that they want. If students want to have a dance party, there are all of the other spaces that we have designated to have those events. If students are flexible enough to envision their program in the way that the College has defined for use of the spaces that we have that’s where they can take their idea and make it happen,” Dean Fatemi said.

Yet, this explanation did not satisfy Cesinger, who said that she was frustrated that her attempts to accommodate the College in planning the event failed and called the College’s party policy “Footloose-like” in its ban on dancing, after the 1984 film of the same name about a town that banned dancing.

“It’s really absurd that when a group of students tries to make any kind of event or party on campus into a safe space where student security is present so that students can feel safer, they actually can’t. I’m not allowed to bring student security in for events in Marsh that involve dancing and music,” Cesinger said. “I find that really absurd because I was trying to accommodate Amherst administration, and we were really willing to cooperate. The Amherst administration is preventing students from creating safe party spaces through the party registration atmosphere and the party registration process.”

Moreover, the crowd manager requirement for registered parties means that registering parties with the College can be prohibitively expensive unless students also have College funding for the event, according to Lindon Chen ’15, who has organized several registered parties and concerts with the College.

“You have to pay for a crowd manager. The crowd manager costs $34 an hour. It seems like this would be impossible for a regular party; you don’t want to hire a police officer to be there for three hours for just a casual gathering,” Chen said.

Additionally, the restriction of registered parties to spaces officially designated as party venues by the College has struck some students as arbitrary, capricious and counterproductive. For instance, although the Marsh ballroom is significantly larger than many designated party spaces, including Hitchcock first floor, Seelye first floor and Lipton first floor and basement, it does not have sufficient capacity to host a registered party, according to Torin Moore, Dean of Residential Life.

“Theme houses, by nature of their genesis and mission (to provide alternative residential programming from the ‘norm party’) have been placed in locations where occupancy rates were not high enough to count as ‘party’ spaces, but allowed for some leeway for good programming to occur,” Dean Moore said.

This explanation did not satisfy Cesinger, who questioned how Dean Moore could know more about the mission of theme houses than the residents of the houses themselves and worried that the College was marginalizing members of theme houses who wished to have parties.

“Is it assumed by the administration that the arts community here is so small and marginalized that all-campus involvement in the arts via the arts house is impossible? It seems that to discourage the whole of the student body from getting involved in the arts by placing the arts house in a place that cannot provide this amount of engagement, the College has actively taken a step against the very constitution/mission of the Marsh house. This is, to say the least, upsetting and appalling,” Cesinger said.

John (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/17/2013 - 23:27

This article also doesn't touch on the police's ability to use discretion. In the Fall of 2011, parties could be had unregistered in dorms like Marsh and the Zu and would rarely be broken up unless there was unsafe activity going on (like multiple ACEMS calls) or if someone called in a noise complaint. In the Spring of 2012, Amherst College Police began the practice of shutting down all unregistered parties. The school's alcohol policy did not change. Instead, Amherst College Police simply stopped using their discretion. There is absolutely no reason for the draconian enforcement of the current alcohol policy, given that what came before seemed to work just fine. The school's police claim that no change in enforcement occurred, which is -- forgive my strong language -- a lie so bald-faced it amounts to complete bullshit.
The real loss here is for the students who arrived at Amherst after the current enforcement policy took offense. They will never know what a good party is like and Amherst's reputation will suffer for the worsened social life at Amherst.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/18/2013 - 00:53