AAS Holds Packed Town Hall on Party Policy
Issue   |   Tue, 02/13/2018 - 18:56
Photo courtesy of Sarah Wishloff ’19
Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey was among the administrators present for the Amherst Association of Students town hall on party policy, which took place on Monday, Feb. 12 and invited students to provide feedback.

The Association of Amherst Students (AAS) held a town hall with administrators and students on Monday, Feb. 12 to address the Party Policy changes released on Jan. 26 and subsequent student backlash. The town hall took place in the Red Room in Converse Hall and was seated to capacity, with students crowding onto the stairs and standing in the back.

AAS President Aditi Krishnamurthy ’18 opened the town hall by emphasizing the importance of face-to-face communication between students and administrators. She then invited Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey to say a few words.

“I’m so glad to see all of you here,” Coffey said. She cited the need to move forward in “productive dialogue about the party policy” and said she took full ownership for not prioritizing broader student input before revising the policy this semester.

“Tonight is the start of a long process, one that I expect will span out over semesters,” Coffey said, adding that she hoped students would leave the town hall feeling heard.

Following Coffey’s introduction, AAS Vice-President Kyndall Ashe ’18 outlined a 60-minute Q&A period and 30-minute segment for specific suggestions and feedback. Administrators including Coffey, Senior Associate Dean of Students Dean Gendron, Director of Student Activities Paul Gallegos, Chief of Campus Operations Jim Brassord and Director of Residential Life Andrea Cadyma were present to answer questions.

A number of concerns dominated the forum — occupancy limits, party registration and overintoxication.

The main problem, students agreed, is the lack of adequate social spaces following the destruction of the social dorms.

Before the social dorms were torn down, Teddy Shirley ’19 said, she and a group of friends would all hang out and get ready for the night together. Without suites such as those in the socials, however, people are forced to binge drink in their rooms before heading to parties “because there isn’t going to be any alcohol once they go out.”

Alcohol at parties, she added, is usually consumed only by the people who reserve the social spaces. By the time the party is opened up, it is typically “extremely limited or gone.”

Because no one knows how much or little people have had to drink, there is no way to hold each other accountable, Shirley said. “How can we create spaces where groups can feel comfortable to get ready for the night, have drinks together, without this need for shot after shot after shot and creating dangerous situations?” she asked.

Yannis Kalogiannis ’19 questioned why the college did not choose to address potential occupancy concerns post-socials before taking them down.

“I think that’s a great observation,” Brassord answered. “I just want to say that this has been foremost on our minds in the past few years … That was the impetus for the Powerhouse, which preceded the socials, and Greenway A … to create these types of spaces for you.”

Students, however, took issue with the perception of the Powerhouse and Greenway A as sufficient spaces for parties.

Matthew Charles Ezersky ’21 spoke about a negative experience being subjected to full-body patdowns, wanding and identification before being allowed into parties at the Powerhouse.

In addition, the Greenways are not “party-friendly,” Rebecca Jordan ’19 said.

“I don’t buy that they were ever intended to be party spaces,” she said. “Never once have I been to a party there. Those spaces are falling into the same problem as the Powerhouse has fallen into. I would keep that in mind and not have this misconception that the Greenways are this fun, desirable place to go.”

According to Gallegos, Student Activities is required to apply wristbands for identification and accordance with legal drinking ages by Massachusetts law. He added that he is interested in further examining the perception of security.

“A very serious issue that I want to raise is the long-term planning of student spaces and the way that I think the lack of a real replacement for the socials, a real organic placement, that isn’t just the Powerhouse, has I think concentrated parties in these kind of overcrowded spaces,” Nolan Lindquist ’18 said. “I think there needs to be a more open dialogue about the long-term integrated planning about space use and policy, because policy doesn’t really make sense without thinking about the space it takes place in.”

Brassord agreed with Lindquist but stated that space developments are constrained by compliance with “stringent” code requirements around occupancy and safety regulations. He referenced the Rhode Island Station nightclub fire that occurred in 2003 due to overcrowding and left 100 people dead and 230 injured. Life safety is the utmost priority, he added.

To develop and implement a successful building project will take time, he said. “If we were to come together as a community and thoughtfully consider all the balanced needs of what makes a great party space, … it’s a process of designing it, contracting it and then building it,” he said. “Just to be realistic, from the administrative perspective, we’re not going to be able to wave a magic wand and deliver a project in the short term. … What we do know is we have a number of spaces that are underutilized. We ought to take two parallel paths here — make appropriate planning for long-term solutions and look programmatically at what we can do to make current spaces work better.”

David Merkel ’19 asked administrators how the college can reconcile the lack of adequate physical space with the desire to be inclusive and throw inclusive parties. “We’re in a student body of 1,800 … If 20 percent of the people try to go to the Triangle, we’re way over capacity,” he said. “If I’m throwing.a party on the Triangle, it’s not rational for me to open it up to anyone else because they always get shut down.”

“I don’t think the number of spaces available and the way we’re using them is sufficient,” Gendron responded. “I think there are spaces we can ramp up pretty quickly to serve parties easily. There are other spaces on campus that we haven’t contemplated using for that purpose that we could begin to contemplate using for that purpose.”

In response, Coffey acknowledged a lack of foresight in anticipating this exacerbation. “Replicating those party spaces in some kind of way is something we want to do,” she said. “But I don’t have perfect answers.”

Gendron also clarified the inclusion of language expecting party sponsors to work with staff assistance. Professional staff, he said, might mean the Green Mountain security team that works with Amherst Campus Police Department around crowd management or on-call assistant directors of Residential Life who are “trained to a much greater extent than our student staff and know how to marshal other resources in a very quick way that’s necessary.”

Students voiced frustrations with the system of party registration, however, saying it hampers spontaneity and is incompatible with social life on a college campus. Jordan called it “not realistic” and “a bureaucratic system.” Though Gendron said the system is set up to allow ACPD to anticipate areas of high density and potential issues on the weekend, Sarah Weintraub ’20 later added that “ACPD should know where the parties are happening by now” and that the system could be disposed of.

After the town hall transitioned into the feedback portion, Cornell Brooks ’19 suggested increasing off-campus options, while Shirley said she hopes students can create a committee solely focused on party policy issues and work with administrators to produce long-term solutions.

Kalogiannis said the college should consider separating social spaces from living spaces and added that he would like to meet with Brassord for further conversation. Adelaide Shunk ’20 called the new policy requiring party sponsors to clean up within one hour of the designated end-time unfair and suggested it be reverted back to the previous deadline of noon the following day.

Elizabeth Turnbull ’18 emphasized the need for transparency and better communication between administrators and students.

Throughout the town hall, administrators referenced wider surveys and invitations for more dialogue regarding the party policy. Students were encouraged to submit questions on notecards, to which administrators would personally reply.

In an email statement to The Student, Coffey wrote that “I am grateful to the students who spoke last evening. I appreciate their honesty, feedback and input. We have already heard from a number of students who want to participate in an advisory committee, which is a positive next step. We will also be looking forward to hearing many more thoughts and ideas through a survey generated by the college’s office of institutional research.”

In an interview, Krishnamurthy said she felt the goal of the town hall — to bring students and administrators together so students would feel heard — was achieved. “A lot of times they weren’t answering questions directly and students were calling them out on it … which I think probably put a lot of pressure on the administration — they’re also human [and] don’t have the answer to everything,” she said. “I don’t know the overall student sentiment on how it went but people have come up to me and said, ‘It was good, thanks.’”

The best outcome, she said, is if administrators realize students want to work with them and give suggestions year-round as opposed to once a year in a town hall.

The language she used in the AAS letter sent on Dec. 10 regarding administrator walkthroughs on Dec. 9, Krishnamurthy added, focused on a specific problem: lack of transparent communication between the student body and administration and a “you versus us” tension on campus. “I hope making it clear that that’s the problem, not all this other stuff that’s symptomatic of it but that … we don’t have a relationship with the administration, will help student leaders on campus help solve some of these problems as time passes,” she added.

According to Krishnamurthy, the Office of Institutional Research will send out a survey within the next few weeks about reactions to policy changes and social life in general. Coffey also mentioned to Krishnamurthy the possibility of an advisory committee composed of students and administrators prior to the town hall, though details have not been finalized.