Due to concerns about alcohol-related deaths, hospitalizations, hazing incidents and sexual assaults on college campuses, administrators nationwide are discussing potential changes to social hosting policies to ensure student safety and limit university liability. However, reaching an effective model has been difficult. Students at various colleges have argued that social hosting policies created to increase safety may have the opposite effect.
On April 10, students at Franklin & Marshall College (F&M) organized a “Take Back Our Campus” protest outside of the administration building in response to perceived administrative inaction toward inappropriate behavior exhibited by MProtective, a local third-party security firm hired by the college.
Last fall, the F&M administration implemented a policy requiring third-party security at social events where alcohol is available from a central location. This policy did not apply to events that were “BYOB,” or “Bring Your Own Beverage.” Under this policy, all F&M fraternities were required to use security provided by the firm MProtective.
The policy was created in part by F&M’s Associate Dean of the College Maria Flores-Mills, who was recently hired as Colgate’s incoming Dean of Students. She will start the position on June 5.
Following the implementation of the policy, an F&M student filed an official report with the administration in November alleging that a member of the MProtective security team acted inappropriately toward her.
There was insufficient evidence to further pursue the allegation. Nonetheless, the administration requested that MProtective personnel wear name tags to make themselves easily identifiable to party-goers. However, the request was made as the administration parted ways with MProtective, so it is unclear whether the changes were actually implemented. Additional female officers were added to the personnel teams, per the request of student leaders.
According to former Vice President of F&M’s Panhellenic Council and organizer of the protest, senior Anna Zwirn, students began discussing alleged inappropriate behavior exhibited by MProtective’s security guards in the fall with Flores-Mills and Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett. Zwirn said that it was frustrating that the college did not remove the company until fraternity members wrote an op-ed in F&M’s student newspaper, The College Reporter, that included screenshots of racist and xenophobic news articles posted on MProtective’s official Facebook page.
F&M terminated the contract with MProtective on March 30.
“The reason that the college severed ties with the organization was because the postings on their public Facebook page were quite contrary to the values of diversity and inclusion that our institution supports,” Flores-Mills said. “It wasn’t because of any particular action, per se, but just that we felt we weren’t aligned in a way that made us comfortable to continue to use that business.”
Zwirn was concerned about the timing of the decision to cut ties with MProtective, arguing that the decision should have been made much earlier.
“The administration didn’t do anything until two weeks ago when [MProtective] posted racist stuff online,” Zwirn said. “But these security members are harassing women and that was [deemed] okay.”
Although students alleged multiple instances of inappropriate behavior by third-party security guards at meetings throughout the year, only one official report of sexual harassment was filed.
“We had a number of meetings with the Panhellenic [Council] and also with other concerned students… One of the primary messages during those meetings was, ‘Please give us more information; we’d really like to look into these allegations,’” Flores-Mills said. “There was a lot of rumor; there was a lot of, ‘I heard from my friend,’ and ‘My friend’s friend had this happen,’ but very little of real substance that I could investigate. There was one complaint that gave me a date, place and time, and I did do an investigation into that incident and was not able to substantiate it.”
Colgate’s Dean of the College Paul McLoughlin hired Flores-Mills as Colgate’s incoming Dean of Students in January 2018, and commented on the concerns raised by F&M students.
“We know that this stuff [protests] happens. [Administrators] don’t sign up for these jobs without understanding that there’s some controversy,” McLoughlin said.
“But I think if you get to know [Flores-Mills] the way I have through this process – we did a national search of over 60 candidates – you will find that she is warm and deeply interested in students’ lives.”
In addition, McLoughlin explained that sexual misconduct claims can be difficult to investigate because the victim needs to file an official report.
Colgate’s policy follows the “preponderance of evidence” – community members will face disciplinary action if they are found by the Equity Grievance Panel (EGP) to be 50.1 percent likely to have committed an offense.
Senior Emily Shlafmitz, one of the founders of Colgate’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Support (SAPAS) board, said that although the administration is constrained from a legal standpoint in sexual misconduct cases, more can be done to educate the student body.
She said that students should be educated about the role of Colgate’s EGP, which investigates claims of discrimination and sexual misconduct. Shlafmitz also said students should be made aware that Colgate operates according to the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Further, she said that students should perhaps be notified when there is an alleged instance of sexual misconduct on campus.
“I do think there is information that university administrators or officials receive that isn’t given out to the student body, that is kept under wraps,” Shlafmitz said. “On some level [that] obviously makes sense, you want to protect people’s identities and wishes, but it also leaves students with a lack of knowledge that I think creates unsafe situations.”
Senior Sarah McDaniel, one of the co-founders of The Network, a team that works to raise awareness of sexual assault and relationship violence, believes more work needs to be done to address sexual assault at Colgate.
“We know that sexual violence happensall the time no matter how many Bystander Intervention trainings we have, it’s still happening. I think Colgate has done a good job moving to supporting the survivors after it happened,” McDaniel said. “But there’s still a lot of work that could be done in terms of preventative measures as well as improving the EGP process.”
“Violence begets violence. We don’t want to continue that. It’s really important to think about preventative measures,” McDaniel said. “[We need to] include narratives that aren’t just the typical white, cisgender, heterosexual survivor attacked by a male. I think it’s really important to have critical conversations and think of what we can do to prevent the issue from happening in the first place.”
The conversation about ways to ameliorate alcohol-related hospitalizations and sexual violence is set to continue on campus in the coming months. McLoughlin said that although third-party security may be appropriate at an event like a football game, it will not be considered when social hosting policy changes are discussed in the fall.
“I’m in no way believing that [third party security] has the training or competency to manage an event that we’re talking about,” McLoughlin said. “Yes, a football game. But a party, in an undergraduate residence hall? So, no, we’re definitely not making that decision at this point.”
McDaniel urged more transparency from the administration as the conversations about social hosting policies continue.
“The administration is always working on this issue. It’s been a constant battle, but I think there needs to be more transparency of what they’re actually doing and what changes are being made. A lot of the time, students don’t know until after it gets done or after a change happens, and then students didn’t really have a say,” McDaniel said.
Flores-Mills affirmed her commitment to transparency when discussing her transition to Colgate.
“I do think that change is difficult and change is complex. It needs to be managed really well. There were several takeaways for me from everything [at F&M] that I think will be very helpful and useful in transitioning to a new community,” Flores-Mills said.
“I feel so well aligned with Dean McLoughlin and I’m thrilled that we’re both very vested in transparency and open communication, and for us to constantly be in conversation with the community.”
McLoughlin described the qualities that a successful administrator to possess.
“A good administrator is someone who is a steward of Colgate’s resources and thinking about our obligation to students. We at least need to look at the risk that exists today and ways to mitigate that risk. That’s what a social hosting review is supposed to do.”
McLoughlin hopes to review Colgate’s social hosting policies during the upcoming fall semester. Flores-Mills will contribute to this review in her capacity as Dean of Students.
“My hope is to use the fall to actually talk with students, student organizations [and] Greek letter organizations about what we’ve learned, the nationwide push in policy, best practice on security, crowd control, guest lists [and] the ratio of sober hosts to guests.”
More information on Colgate’s current social hosting policies is available on Colgate’s website at http://www.colgate.edu/offices-and-services/deanofthecollege/social-hosting.