If I May: On the Party Policy
Issue   |   Tue, 01/30/2018 - 21:20

The recently-updated party policy is thoroughly disappointing. It further infantilizes students, and does little to nothing to fix issues it should be designed to remedy. In fact, there is so much wrong with this policy that I couldn’t even get to all of it; I addressed only what I found to be the most egregious issues with the policy.

First, I’ll address some smaller scale problems with the policy. The policy explains that if a student wants to drink alcohol at a registered party, they are “responsible for bringing their own alcohol for personal consumption.” As the policy states: “No guest is allowed to serve alcohol to other guests.” I can see where the administration is coming from here. There have certainly been problems on campus in the past relating to the service of alcohol by party hosts. However, I don’t really understand how this policy would work. Will students just be carrying around six packs of beer while trying to dance? Will we have to carry around Sharpies to label all the alcohol we would personally bring? Logistically alone, this one just doesn’t make sense.

If the college was worried about communal alcohol, such as jungle juice, perhaps they could have stipulated that all alcohol consumed has to come from closed containers that the drinker opened themselves (meaning drink from a bottle or can). This would fit perfectly with the rest of their rules, considering that “hard alcohol is never permitted at a registered party,” and “no drinking games are allowed.” So, instead of every student having to bring their allotted alcohol, perhaps one or two could bring some larger containers of beer cans, and students could share those accordingly.

Furthermore, the policy stipulates that “alcohol is limited to six units for personal consumption.” Again, I understand this rule; the college wants students not to drink in excess. However, six drinks is an arbitrary number. For some students, this is far too much alcohol, and drinking that much could necessitate medical attention. But for others, six drinks is fewer than they are used to drinking on a weekend night. The college must know that making this rule will not lead to these students drinking less. Rather, this will encourage students to quickly drink heavily in their rooms before going to parties where they can’t get any alcohol, which I am certain is a situation the college does not want.

It is extremely disheartening to see the administration respond to the widely-supported AAS’ letter — which criticized the administration for treating Amherst “as a boarding school rather than a college” — by including such infantilizing rules. If the college wants us to host and enjoy parties in a more adult way, then it should stop trying to treat us like children. These rules are just another example of the college’s choice to police us rather than put trust in us as students.

Unfortunately, as you go deeper into the party policy, the problems only get more serious, especially when you reach the section called “What Does Amherst Expect from Party Sponsors?” There are eight expectations laid out by the college, some of which could be considered fair. However, there is one “expectation” that is inadmissible: “Number six. [A party sponsor is expected to] address unsafe conditions at party, including unsafe intoxication of guests, overcrowding and any guest behavior that creates a risk for other guests and the facility.” At face value, this expectation seems sensible. In the AAS letter, they wrote: “Rather than coming up with new ways to police us, let’s talk about how the college can start treating us, its students, as valuable, adult members of its community.” One of these ways, of course, is self-policing our parties as much as we can.

“So, what’s the problem, Jake?” I assume you’re asking. Here’s the problem: in a section a little further down, called “What happens if I sponsor a party and fail to meet these expectations?” the policy notes that “typically failing to meet the expectations outlined above will result in a probationary status and/or an educational sanction.” Um, okay? But look back at expectation number six (printed above): what does “address unsafe conditions” mean? What does “behavior that creates a risk for other guests” mean, exactly? This language is colloquial and vague, and that is unacceptable in this case. If I’m at risk of disciplinary action, I’d like to know exactly what is expected of me.

Furthermore, according to the policy, party sponsors can also be financially responsible for any damage done at the party. The policy states: “If the person(s) responsible for the damage cannot be identified, the party sponsors may be charged for all damages and cleaning charges.”

Okay, let’s role play this. Here I am, hosting a party. “Wow, look at all the large athletes here,” I say. Oh no, one of them punched a wall to prove he’s the strongest of the pack! But which one? I don’t know any of them personally, and I didn’t see the punch happen. So now what? Am I to pay for this wall punch hole? And, because this behavior probably qualifies under “behavior that creates a risk for other guests,” now I’ve also failed to meet the expectation number six, so I could be subject to serious disciplinary action. This policy has created a situation wherein I’m both financially and disciplinarily responsible for the behavior of someone who I don’t even know and do not have the physical ability to control. Furthermore, while the policy requires party sponsors to act above and beyond the expectations of an adult hosting a party, it also allows those students who are not sponsors to act in whatever delinquent way they choose and are unlikely to face significant consequences, unless they are caught in the act. Thanks, Amherst!

Finally, we arrive at the policy’s handling of “medical emergencies involving AOD [alcohol and other drugs] use.” This section begins with fairly standard fare, the college stressing that they are concerned about students’ safety regarding the use of drugs and alcohol. But then, this sentence appears: “For students who choose to consume alcohol, the college expects that they do so in moderation to avoid compromising personal safety.” At first glance, this seems innocuous enough. In fact, in my first draft of this article, I did not even address this line at all. But upon some reflection and conversation with fellow students, I realized the weight of what this sentence implies. Essentially, it suggests that a student who has drunk too much has compromised their own personal safety and is therefore completely responsible for whatever happens to them.
This is an incredibly dangerous implication, especially when you apply it to the issue of rampant sexual assault on this campus. To me — and to some other students I have spoken with — it seems that the college is saying that if you get too drunk and are sexually assaulted, it is your own fault because you have gotten too drunk. It is absolutely inexcusable that the college composed a sentence like this. I guess I should assume that these implications were not considered, but that too is disgraceful. Frankly, I’m embarrassed such careless and tone-deaf language was included. Shame on you, Amherst.

And yet, we’re still not finished with this trash heap of a policy. Next, the college discusses the institution of a “medical amnesty policy.” Essentially, if you call ACEMS for yourself or for another student, you and the student for which ACEMS was called can receive disciplinary amnesty. This is a very sensible policy that encourages students to call emergency services if they or their friends are in a dangerous situa — oh, what’s that you say? The college found a way to ruin this one too? A few lines down, the policy states: “[Medical amnesty] does not protect students who repeatedly violate college policies. Once a student receives medical amnesty, future amnesty is at the discretion of the Office of Student Affairs.” My goodness. The college has now created a situation where students may be encouraged not to call ACEMS when they or their peers are in need because it could risk them getting in serious trouble. This is, again, absolutely unacceptable. There should never, ever be a situation where students are discouraged from calling ACEMS.

Simply put, the party policy does much to increase the very things with which students were already disappointed, such as enforce over-policing, treat students like high schoolers and show a palpable tone-deafness regarding sexual assault. On the other hand, it does little to nothing to remedy the serious issues related to parties on campus, the most important of which being a safe, assault-free environment for all students. The party policy is just another example of the administration displaying a lack of understanding of its own student body. Of course, I do not mean to suggest that I could create a perfect party policy. This is obviously a very complex and difficult issue to address. However, it is disheartening to see the college double down on its policing and dismissal of sexual assault issues. At this point, it is clear that left to their own devices, the administration will not act in its students’ best interest. That means it’s time for us to make some serious noise about these issues. I’m not sure what form that noise will take, but hopefully it’ll get pretty loud.