Administration and SGA Discuss Options



Jay Lincoln

After reading Amanda Golden’s coverage of the new event registration process, Sean Devlin’s Letter to the Editor and Dean Suzy Nelson’s “Update” I decided it was time for a student’s perspective to be articulated. To recap: Dean Nelson is working with ResLife and the SGA to create “Living the Liberal Arts,” a strategic social, educational and residential policy intended to “change our culture and promote moderate drinking when alcohol is served.” However, this policy change is defined by a new set of rules, regulations and restrictions under the guise of requiring registration of social events in student housing.

In the Letter to the Editor “Rise Students of Colgate,” alumnus Sean Devlin outlines the policy changes in this new initiative. Private, open and catered parties are allowed only from Thursday to Saturday, all of which must be registered with a strictly enforced guest list and Campus Safety can conduct “walk-throughs” at any time. 

In response, the Student Government Association (SGA) has been working on a counter-proposal intended to compromise with the administration and alter aspects considered outlandish and representative of the administration’s lack of knowledge about the social reality of Colgate. For example, SGA is working on creating a new tier of event registration in which of-age individuals within a residence may spontaneously drink with up to 25 of their friends. They are also working on editing aspects of the original proposal that would prove difficult to enforce – and even more difficult for the student body to comply with.

However, this proposal is solely an effort to mitigate the amount of restriction originally proposed by the University. In negotiating terms, the University has made an “extreme offer” and the SGA is working from this extreme offer in order to simply cut our losses. 

The fact that the original policy prohibited of-age students from drinking at home is baffling to say the least. The proposal that social events may only be registered Thursday through Saturday discriminates against athletes and is representative of the administration’s belief that they have the authority to decide when students can and cannot be socially involved. 

The effort of the University to prohibit drinking games is representative of the divide between the administration and the reality of the student body. Maybe SGA hasn’t had the heart to tell them or maybe the administration is not willing to listen. As a student, let me deliver this message to those in charge of crafting this new policy: You will not be able to stop Colgate students from playing drinking games on a regular basis. The only possibility of that happening is regular Campus Safety walk-throughs of every social event, which would be the epitome of an authoritarian, dictatorial approach to regulating the social life of Colgate students. 

As a University, Colgate is required to uphold the laws of the State of New York. Perhaps this drinking game restriction is solely for liability reasons. But as far as I know, a ban on hard alcohol in fraternities is not New York Law, but rather of Colgate’s own accord. According to Brenda Ice, “hard alcohol has always been prohibited” in Colgate’s alcohol policy. This is news to me, and any administrator that doesn’t believe me, ask Cook’s Liquor Store about their sales of Nikolai vodka.

Clearly there is a large divide between the administration’s goals, the student vision and the social reality of Colgate’s campus. Yet we are being told that students, faculty and the administration are collaborating to produce a policy that is equitable and reasonable. 

However, as a student who came to Colgate not only for the education and beautiful campus, but also for the vibrantly social student body that demonstrates academic and social intelligence, I wonder, why is this new policy being instituted? Are there issues with students’ academic performance? Is it due to statistics regarding hospital visits, or the tragic drunk driving incident of November 2000? Or is it something else? I believe that, although the administration does truly feel that this new policy will promote safety, this is a power-grab attempt on their part to control Colgate social life. It is also part of a larger trend over the past decade, during which Colgate purchased fraternities under the threat of no longer recognizing them and is now attempting to regulate the social events that take place there, as well as in other  on-campus residential areas. 

In Sean Devlin’s Letter to the Editor, he identifies a quotation from Ice as the administration’s rationale behind this new proposal. “Faculty comments were such that the reason students are here should be academically focused to start, and so, this is a way to help ensure they were at least meeting that academic flow.” He goes on to say, “The administration certainly sings a different tune when speaking to alumni and prospective students about your academic achievements.” If our academic performance truly is the basis behind this new proposal, then I for one am insulted. I personally know students that go out five nights a week and still have the ability to excel academically, and I know students who rarely go out and struggle with Colgate’s high academic standard. 

I do not deny that our social decisions and time management have an influence on academic performance, yet I believe that it is the responsibility of the individual student and their family to monitor academic performance in relation to social involvement. Colgate draws a student that not only has the capacity to excel within the classroom but also as a social member of the community, an attribute that manifests in students’ success following graduation. It is not the function of the school to limit its students from engaging socially. 

However, in my review of the administration’s quotations explaining their rationale behind this new policy change, it would seem that they are not necessarily identifying academic performance as the primary issue. Dean Scott Brown calls the policy change an attempt to “promote a more vibrant and inclusive social environment that is not characterized by high-risk/dangerous situations.” He goes on to mention student safety statistical improvements since last fall such as “less alcohol incidents, less repeat issues and less Emergency Room visits [for intoxication, alcohol-related injuries and lower average Blood Alcohol Levels].” I would like to know how creating guest lists and University Official “Check-Ins” at the door does anything to perpetuate inclusion or a vibrant social environment. As far as statistical improvements in terms of student health, I speculate that perhaps students’ fear of consequences has reduced accurate and consistent reports of incidents rather than actual reduction of incidents. Finally, as an individual who grew up in Amherst, Mass. and experienced the social dynamics of both Amherst College and UMASS, I can attest that these issues of high-risk situations are not specifically related to Colgate’s social environment, but are rather a function of consolidating thousands of hormonally active 18-22 year old individuals in a single space. I do believe that student health and safety are paramount and that is a primary consideration of the administration in the construction of this new policy. However, although it is the responsibility of Colgate to promote a safe and healthy atmosphere, it is not their responsibility to do so by instituting a micro-managing policy change that was originally crafted without large-scale student involvement.

In Dean Suzy Nelson’s “update” she says, “Every Monday morning, I review Colgate’s campus safety reports and have a firsthand account of the range of negative consequences that affect the wellbeing of our students such as unwanted sexual activity, increased physical violence, increased disciplinary or legal problems and poor academic performance.” Dean Nelson, I sincerely hope that you are not conducting your work as Dean of the College based on statistics, Campus Safety reports and selective opinion sampling of students. There is a large percentage of the student body that views those incidents as outliers from the norm, as an issue that is dependent on the individual rather than on Colgate’s culture. That percentage would also take issue with this change to the status quo, as part of the reason that many of us came to Colgate was because of the vibrant and active social atmosphere.

Is this policy change solely due to academic, safety and health concerns as the administration would have you believe, or is this part of a general trend facilitated by the University’s administration that seeks to control the social life of the Colgate student? To quote Rebekah Ward’s “The History of Greek Life” published in the Maroon-News in October of 2010, “In 1989, a Special Committee on Residential Life submitted a report including resolutions voted on by faculty concerning Greek Life to the Colgate University Board of Trustees.” This document reported, “The Faculty of Colgate University recommends that the fraternity and sorority system be abolished by the beginning of the academic year 1994-5”. It cited that “the history of fraternities at Colgate reveals a persistent and pervasive pattern of violations of the rules of the University,” and that such organizations “challenge the principals of an open liberal arts education, and foster an environment antithetical to the values and aspirations of the University.” Then in 2003, another campus culture task force was assembled. Its research and resulting recommendation set forth “a drastic change finally put into motion by the administration in 2003, as part of University President Rebecca Chopp’s new Residential Education Program” in which “the University buy Greek Life houses and try to integrate and regulate the community to ensure it was not separate from the rest of campus life at Colgate.” Therefore, in concordance with the Residential Education Plan, Alumni Corporations were forced to sell their houses under the threat of losing recognition of the on-campus chapters. Now, the administration is attempting to control and regulate the fraternities that it turned into on-campus buildings through less than ideal methods by proposing an “extreme offer” policy change that the SGA is attempting to simply mitigate.

It seems that over the past two decades, the administration of Colgate University has had an issue with the way that students are conducting themselves socially. In 2003 it made the radical decision to assimilate the fraternity buildings and is now attempting to put in place a policy that requires every social gathering of more than 25 individuals to be a registered event under the watchful eye of Campus Safety. I support the school’s initiative to promote a healthy, safe and academically engaged campus, yet I take issue with the manner in which they are instituting policy changes. The SGA was told that as of March 18, 2013 the original draft of the Event Registration policy would be instituted. As of now, due to the backlash from the student body, the date of implementation has been pushed to next fall. In short, the administration presented a radical policy change that was constructed without the large-scale input of the student body, attempted to enact it a month after alerting the SGA and is now pushing back the date of implementation based on the principle that the SGA may negotiate a new policy change based off the original proposal. 

Over the past month I have heard both ResLife and the Administration spew rhetoric about their willingness to compromise and work with the student body, yet they have been negotiating this policy change in bad faith from the very beginning. This is an attempt to control and manipulate the social environment of Colgate students without our large-scale involvement. It is an effort by the administration to alter the school that we all came to – not to be told how to live, but to become strong voices in the community. Simply based on the fact that we as students contribute significant amounts of money to this institution, we deserve an influential voice in the construction of the social environment. It is the responsibility of both the administration and the student body to perpetuate the ability of Colgate students to safely function as pillars of community, excelling in both social and academic functions. The students are willing to discuss what changes can be made to promote health, safety and inclusion, yet this is not an equitable or fair method of developing and defining the culture of Colgate University.