On Sept. 29, the Vassar student body of received an email from Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo explaining the changes made to the school’s party registration policies and practices. The email outlined four main alterations: the maximum number of people allowed in an apartment for parties is now 25, only one host is permitted for each registered party, hosts can no longer serve hard liquor at a party and the number of parties per night is limited to one in the South Commons, four in the Terrace Apartments and four in the Town Houses.
The previous set of regulations dictated that up to 50 people were allowed in a house at one time during a registered party. There could be more than one host for each registered party and they were not confined to serving beer and wine only.
The list of changes laid out in the email was followed by a brief explanation of the Dean of Students Office’s and the Office of Residential Life’s rationale for the change in policy. The email ascribes the 25-person limit primarily to fire safety, and maintains that the hard alcohol ban is to foster a safer social environment.
However, in direct contradiction to the administration’s explanation, the fire safety regulations laid out in the document titled “Vassar College Regulations for 2016-17,” which can be found on the school website, state that up to 50 people can be in a SoCo, TA or TH at a given time.
Dean di Bartolo states in her email, “[Her office and the Office of Residential life] are committed to having the conversation about where and if large registered parties (>25) with alcohol should be permitted.” However, she does not include any alternative ideas. As it stands, student organizations with more than 25 members, as well as sports teams, are now by definition unable to have social gatherings without excluding some community members.
Dean di Bartolo’s email was followed by an email from the Associate Director of Residential Life Rich Horowitz about a week later. This email included a report of student conduct incidents as well as an update on Vassar’s party policy. Horowitz noted that students of legal drinking age are now allowed to consume alcoholic beverages outside, as long as they are within close proximity to their apartment and they are not making a lot of noise. Horowitz clarifies here that there is an expectation that students will refrain from making a lot of noise at any hour of the day, not only when drinking outside of their apartments.
Both of the emails that students received were unclear in defining the new party rules, nor their relationship with the College’s old policy. Dean di Bartolo’s email does not lay out the previous rules in full, which prevents students from thoroughly understanding the change in code. Additionally, as explained above, the rationale that hosting 50 people exceeds the fire-safety capacity of THs does not match the information stated in the regulations documents themselves.
The email from the Office of Residential Life is ambiguous as well. It does not lay out the relationship between the change in outdoor drinking rules and the party policy. It raises questions such as whether what the email refers to as “favorite drink” includes hard alcohol and if one is allowed to drink outside of one’s apartment during a registered party or if the two are mutually exclusive. Neither email tells students where to find the policy in full.
The policies listed in both emails do not appear to be listed in any Vassar College publications regarding regulations.
Along with the ambiguous and confusing content, it bears mentioning that the emails were sent more than a month into the school year. While the whole campus was never officially notified when the policies were first enacted, Dean di Bartolo acknowledges in her email that some students may already be aware of the changes. This leads one to assume that the regulation changes had been in place for some time prior to the campus-wide email, which may have resulted in students getting punished for breaking rules they had no way to know about.
Many other U.S. colleges and universities, including Dartmouth and Stanford, have recently introduced similar policies. A year after implementing a hard alcohol ban, Dartmouth students received an emailed survey about the impacts of the policy. Overall, 85 percent of respondents reported that they had consumed hard alcohol since the ban was put into effect, 80 percent said that the ban had not changed their drinking habits and 15 percent claimed that they drink more times per week since the ban was implemented.
The lack of responsiveness on behalf of the student body does not, however, indicate a disregard for the need to create a safer environment on the university’s campus. 52 percent of the 1,745 respondents, in fact, were in agreement that there should be measures in place to foster a healthier environment. However, 80 percent of students did not believe that the ban lowered high-risk drinking on campus and 76 percent were not convinced that it fostered a safer and healthier environment.
On the other hand, Good Samaritan calls at Dartmouth, which is similar to Vassar and ensures that calling for medical help will not result in charges related to any involvement of drugs or alcohol, decreased after the implementation of the policy. While Dartmouth is construing this as a positive trend, it could also indicate a hesitation to call for help rather than a decrease in unhealthy drinking habits. Students could be more afraid to call Safety and Security now that the punishments for possessing hard alcohol are stricter, even if the policy itself hasn’t changed.
At Stanford, meanwhile, the ban came in the wake of a highly publicized rape case in which Brock Turner, a former Stanford student, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Many people object strongly to the enactment of the rule, arguing that it reinforces the victim-blaming myth that alcohol is to blame for sexual assault.
The Miscellany News acknowledges that there are safety concerns tied to parties on Vassar’s campus. There has been an increase in the number of EMS calls over the past few years, many of which are as a result of the consumption of hard alcohol, as Dean di Bartolo stated in her email. For the academic year of 2015-2016, there were 44 medical transportations related to alcohol at Vassar, a number significantly higher than peer institutions. We at The Miscellany News share the belief that a change in regulations must occur to make the Vassar party scene a safer environment. However, the current policies will not be effective, especially given the consequences of similar policies at Vassar’s peer schools. The changes in policy were also ineffectively communicated to students, making it harder for students, especially students new at Vassar, to have a comprehensive idea of relevant regulations.
— The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least two-thirds of The Miscellany News Editorial Board