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Greek Council fears party culture at risk

Greek Council fears party culture at risk

Members of Greek life and the Office of Student Engagement are locked in an ongoing debate over the new Bring Your Own Beverage (BYOB) policy. Some members of Greek organizations say that the new policy will stifle campus party culture, while administrators say the policy will require student accountability and teach low-risk practices.

BYOB is a potential new party option that involves a closed guest list party where 21 and over guests can bring their own alcohol and can only drink what they bring. Greek Council is concerned the introduction of a BYOB option would prevent Greek organizations from hosting all-campus parties due to the college’s policy aligning with Greek organizations’ national regulations. This is just one example of a greater frustration felt by members of Greek Council towards the decision making process for College policy.

Greek Council recently sent a series of recommendations to President Sean Decatur, expressing concern about both the actions of the Alcohol Task Force Steering Committee and the results of  the K-Card access policy that was instituted at the beginning of this academic year. These recommendations mostly deal with changes to the process by which administrators solicit student input on policy decisions.

“I think [the recommendations are] all part of a bigger issue of how we are starting to see Kenyon’s campus culture shift and I think it’s of primary concern to Greek Council that our community remain open and inclusive,” Director of Outreach for Greek Council Jess Kusher ’19 said.

In September 2016, Decatur created the Alcohol Task Force (ATF), a group composed of students, faculty, trustees and staff, to investigate the presence and consumption of alcohol on Kenyon’s campus. The ATF created a list of recommendations to address problems concerning high-risk alcohol practices.

The following March, the ATF presented a report to Decatur that recommended that the College “encourage alternatives to drinking, teach low-risk practices in alcohol consumption, require accountability, enhance and clarify policies, and support students struggling to make appropriate choices.” In their report, the ATF came to the conclusion that binge drinking was a “significant concern” at Kenyon, and that hard alcohol and especially “pre-gaming” with hard alcohol was an important aspect of that concern.

Following the ATF report, the Steering Committee was created early in the fall semester to follow through on the report’s recommendations. Over the course of the semester, the committee worked with the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) to expand the number of options for student socialization on campus. The most significant of those options has been the OSE’s introduction of the BYOB event pilot program. BYOB provides a party option for Greek organizations that currently cannot host parties because of conflicts between national Fraternal Information Programming Group (FIPG) regulations and the alcohol policy of the College. These groups include Beta Theta Pi and Phi Kappa Sigma. The OSE extended the  BYOB pilot program through the end of the spring 2018 semester.

Laura Kane, director of student engagement and a member of the Steering Committee, believes that adding BYOB as a permanent  option would be a positive change. “We have an obligation for our organizations that are required to comply with FIPG,” Kane said. “We have a duty to make [compliance with FIPG] work for them and to provide an additional option of BYOB allows that to happen. BYOB creates a more desirable option.”

While the Steering Committee has a positive opinion of BYOB, there is growing  concern, particularly from Greek Council, that the introduction of BYOB may have some other consequences. As part of the recommendations that Greek Council recently submitted to Decatur, the Council generally agreed that BYOB parties “would lead to pregaming and other dangerous forms of alcohol consumption.”

Paul Murphy ’18 said changing the BYOB policy so that it aligns with the FIPG regulations of some Greek organizations would have drastic effects on the party culture at Kenyon. In the past, some Greek organizations followed the Kenyon party rules and not the regulations of FIPG because the rules did not align.

“From what I understand, going forward in the next semester to a year, there will no longer be all-campus parties or open events hosted by fraternities,” Murphy said while expressing his concern during a Student Council meeting on Nov. 7.

The series of recommendations also includes the request that the Steering Committee be disbanded and be replaced with another committee of Campus Senate’s choosing.

No policies or changes in policy have emerged from the ATF report, according to Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, vice president for Student Affairs and the chair of the Steering Committee.

The recommendations from Greek Council also lay out concerns that the new K-Card access policy, under which students have access to their own residence halls only, restricts access to division/theme housing, which “ma[kes] members feel less safe and supported.” In the document, Greek Council says restricted access interferes with the ideal of Greek life as a source of “bonding” for students on campus; the new policy “impede[s] the function of Greek Life at Kenyon” by making campus-wide events for recruitment, theme housing, or other social events more difficult as a result of the limited access to residence halls. The document also notes the Council’s belief that the K-Card access policy was implemented undemocratically and bypassed Campus Senate, and that the findings from community meetings held on the issue were mischaracterized.

However, Bonham cautions that students will not have the ability to vote if changes do eventually occur as a result of the committee’s actions. “I don’t think it’s appropriate nor commonplace for all policy changes to be put to a vote by the student body,” Bonham said.  “We bring any potential policy changes or concerns to the appropriate governance body and then that body discusses them, maybe brings it back to constituents, and then provides us with that feedback and student reaction. But we are not going to have students vote on  all College policies.”

On Friday, Dec. 8, members of the ATF Steering Committee will be in Peirce Dining Hall between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in order to answer questions and receive feedback from students.

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