Recently, many students were shocked to hear about citations issued after several students completed the History Comprehensive exam. The tradition of “comping” someone, meaning, waiting for them to finish their comp, then showering them with alcohol, confetti, treats, and affection, has often appeared University sanctioned because these celebrations happen in or around academic buildings. However, the University’s rules against public display of alcohol, even by those of legal drinking age, have been in place for some time.
Dean Alex Bruce, Associate Dean of Students for Student Life, plays a large role in the enforcement of University policies, especially in regards to alcohol violations. When interviewed about the recent crackdown, he credited the recent enforcement to concerns from past comps, especially Super Saturday. Bruce explained, “It’s the increased flaunting of public drinking. There’s been a degree of tolerance, but when it get pushed to a point, when it’s so obvious, when it’s so distracting to people just trying to go about their daily business, whether or not they’re in the comprehensive exam, they’ve got business to attend to and they can’t because someone’s throwing a party outside their window.”
Emily Taliaferro (C’14) was written up after leaving her History Comp. She expressed her disappointment with the crackdown, saying, “I was participating in a Sewanee tradition. I don’t normally walk around with glass bottles and liquor around my neck, but seniors have been getting “comped” outside academic buildings for years (and even earlier this year and that day) and no one that I saw was written up. This “comping” tradition has always involved things like glass bottles and public display, however usually the cops just warn you and tell you to pour it out… I had just stepped out of my comp and was bombarded with people who wished to celebrate in my achievement and I was almost immediately taken aside and written up… I have looked at the alcohol policy for Sewanee since this happened, and yes, according to it I was in the wrong. However I feel that the inconsistent treatment is unfair. Since I had not be in that situation in my entire four years here, I felt ashamed and a little humiliated that it happened after completing my comp.”
Grace Shaw (C’15) was issued a citation for comping Taliaferro. “As someone who will be comping next year, I would love to celebrate in a tradition I have come to know and appreciate well at Sewanee,” said Shaw, who attributed the stricter enforcement to hospitalizations of comped students. She added, “Comps are like all drinking at Sewanee: it is their decision on how much and when to drink.” Both Taliaferro and Shaw are over 21.
The students, including Taliaferro and Shaw, who were issued citations after the History Comp, do not face any formal punishment. Bruce stated, “In meeting with those students I [gave] oral warnings rather than formal citations and did hold the citation against them, because it is appropriately reasonable to make sure students are duly notified.” In the future, these warnings will be rarer, as the administration is attempting to inform allstudents, including thosenot participating in compfestivities, of the public display laws. According to Bruce, a citation involving public display will most likely be processed through the University instead of through the county unless, “a student gets unruly, ugly, tries to run away, they’ve chosen to behave in a particular way that will lead to greater consequences.”
The problematic parts of comps for Bruce, and the entirety of the administration, go beyond public displays of alcohol and noise complaints. “The trash that’s left behind” is another major concern for Bruce. “The people have to know that Silly String [and] glitter are not biodegradable. It’s not just the beer bottles or whatever, it’s these other things. And that’s just disrespectful to a campus that we care a lot about,” Bruce stated.
Sewanee is often reluctant to let go of its traditions, but comping is one of the relatively young traditions. Bruce told the story of his own English Comp experience: “It’s interesting how traditions rise and fall. It’s been twenty-five years since I comped here, and the mass greeting wasn’t part of that. I finished my English comprehensive exam and walked out of the building. Gailor was a dining hall at the time, and they had a big picnic set up… Late that afternoon, I got together with friends and we had a relaxing time together. I don’t know when in the last 20 or so years it morphed… What’s the difference between [a comp nowadays] and a fraternity party? It’s not at a fraternity house – that’s about it.”
Celebrating academic success is not the issue, but the way people celebrate is problematic for the administration. “I think we all agree that we ought to celebrate when our friends have done something great,” said Bruce, “Let’s celebrate when people have done something really great. And let’s do it in a way that doesn’t add to other people’s stress or get in the way of what they’re trying to do… Let’s do it in a way that’s respectful for the physical environment… Let’s do it in a way that’s in accordance with university policy and state law.”
When asked how to appropriately comp someone in the future, Dean Bruce added, “When does a group of friends waiting outside Gailor for friends become a disturbance? I don’t know what the tipping point is. If it’s a straightforward disturbance, the police will break it up. If there’s alcohol present that changes the nature of the conversation… I don’t think we need to get locked into a false dichotomy of we either have it wide open in public or we don’t have it at all… There are creative solutions that honor the people who are doing good work, honor the students who are working hard, and honor the community.”
Parties celebrating the comprehensive exams held by the departments, including the legendary English Comp Party thrown by Dr. John V. Reishman, will not be affected. Bruce prefers these parties to the immediate celebration because they are undisruptive to others, removed from central campus and focused on the appropriate audience. The public display policies apply throughout the school year. All students, regardless of participating in comps, should keep this in mind on weekends, especially party weekends. There is what Bruce describes as an “uneasy truce with fraternity front yards,” but elsewhere, alcohol should not be carried in the open.