By David Hoyt
“The party policy is all about safety.”
This is a point Associate Dean of Students Tacci Smith emphasizes during the many party training sessions she runs every semester. Smith is charged with overseeing a policy that must be agreeable to students, campus groups, administrators and state law all at once. And, as Halloween weekend approaches, it’s one the College hopes will keep costumed bacchanals from getting out of control. Surprisingly, though, no formal policy existed even a decade ago. When Smith arrived at Kenyon in 2004, the Office of Campus Safety handled large campus parties, but smaller gatherings were not officially permitted. And this ad hoc system worked: until the second semester of the 2004-05 year.
“That spring, Colin Boyarski [’08] dies,” Smith recalled. The death of the first-year student, who was found frozen and with a blood alcohol content of .43 in a snowy field one April morning after attending several parties, prompted a change in the College’s “thought process,” in Smith’s words, and triggered the transference of jurisdiction over parties from Safety to the Dean of Students’ Office. The following year, the Good Samaritan policy, designed to encourage students to call for help without fear of disciplinary action, was implemented, and the first party policy was designed.
After its approval by Campus Senate, the policy went into effect in the fall of 2008, and Smith, who had only just entered her current position, was suddenly charged with the implementation of a policy she had not designed. Almost immediately, it was clear to Smith that parts of the policy were not working and needed to change. This prompted a series of revisions that has continued in stages throughout the last several years, including the beginning of mandatory party training. The policy in its current form must walk a fine line between two sometimes-conflicting requirements: to keep students safe, and to keep the College in compliance with state law.
“The policy always talks about, if you’re under 21, because of the state law, you can’t be drinking,” Smith said. “But then as a community, we’re going to take care of each other. There’s spaces in between those two statements, and that’s purposeful. ﾅ We completely say, if you’re under 21, you should not be drinking ﾅ [but] we’d rather have folks feel like there might be some flexibility: I might be able to sort of get beer elsewhere so I don’t need to pregame so hard in my room,” Smith said.
Although Smith may be the public face of the party policy and its chief administrator, its true enforcers are the officers of Campus Safety. Smith relies on Safety to green light and patrol the parties and to report any violations to her on Monday morning. Campus Safety Supervisor Greg von Freymann thinks his office works much better with administrators than in the past. “I think Tacci’s done a good job. ﾅ When we first initially [implemented the policy], at times [previous administrators] were making decisions on a telephone while we were boots on the ground,” he said.
Smith and von Freymann both agree that a level of flexibility is built into Safety’s enforcement of the party policy, in order to forgive minor violations while keeping the policy forceful and effective. “You shut parties down, you just end up with more problems,” von Freymann said. “So for us it’s always better to try and work with them so they can have a safe, productive party. That doesn’t always happen, so then those are the ones we shut down.”
The relationship between Campus Safety and students has improved since the implementation of the current policy, according to Smith. Safety “used to be a lot more hardcore about the underage possession piece of it,” Smith said. “When Safety came, literally, all the first-year students would drop their beers.”
Ryan Baker ’14, president of the fraternity Delta Phi, reported that Greek organization officials and other party hosts have more positive working relationships with Safety than students in general, who may be less familiar with the officers and attempt to avoid then as a precaution against possible trouble.
In general, students said that they to find the provisions of the policy fair. Usually, trouble arises after the fact ﾗ when alleged violations of the policy are moved into the judicial arena. “I think it’s just when [students] feel like the punishment is unfair that they have a problem with the party policy, not necessarily the party policy itself,” Leland Holcomb ’14, who attended a recent party training session, said.
Baker agreed that punishments can sometimes seem “a little more arbitrary based on the situation,” but appreciated administrators’ efforts to make consequences constructive. “We had a few issues with one of our parties this semester,” he said. “But the experience we had ﾅ was very positive.”
Baker said the administration worked to help Delta Phi avoid future problems. “And that’s definitely kind of a forward-thinking mentality. Anything that’s kind of encouraging more dialogue between the administration and the Greeks in how they want to move forward together is generally going to, I think, achieve better results,” he said.
Although all party training attendees must sign an agreement to “take full responsibility when sponsoring an alcoholic event on campus” to become party-certified, Smith says this statement is not an attempt to transfer legal liability to party hosts. “If there’s any sort of issue ﾅ your responsibility is to call Safety,” she said. “That’s what we mean by taking responsibility.”
Although no party-related incidents have resulted in legal proceedings since the implementation of the policy ﾗ Boyarski’s death prompted an investigation by local law enforcement but no civil or criminal charges ﾗ Smith urges adherence to the policy to protect the responsible groups. Although there is no precedent, she said, “If it were to ever happen that way, the College would say, this group did everything we asked them to do ﾅ and so we’re supporting this group because they called [Safety]; they did what they needed to do.”
Smith said groups who chose not to follow the policy could face greater liability. “We don’t want to throw any of our students or their groups under the bus, but them not following the policy says, we weren’t negligent as the College or as the administration because we did what we needed to do. ﾅ When you don’t follow through, you’ve taken that on yourself.”
Smith, Safety and students all agreed there is room for improvement in the policy. Smith is considering the possibility of introducing a separate, optional party training that would focus on hosting small parties. This could possibly include a session on mixing drinks at the Village Inn. Students and von Freymann also pointed out that the 20-person limit for small parties, which Smith conceded was rather arbitrary, should be adjusted in light of the new, larger North Campus Apartments.
It is also difficult to judge how much of an impact the policy has made on its primary goal of safety. Von Freymann said that “after almost 20 years [the number of hospital runs is] probably about the same. I think you have certain individuals that drink excessively, and people that don’t. I think that doesn’t really change from year to year.”
Smith pointed out that the policy’s success cannot be judged solely on this metric, since, for example, the Good Samaritan policy may increase the number of hospitalizations but lessen the risk of students not getting needed help. Von Freymann also allowed that “the Animal House days of 20 years ago, we don’t have those days anymore.”
“The party policy is a work in progress,” von Freymann said. “I won’t say it’s perfect.”
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