By Oliver Heffron
The University’s Undergraduate Student Social Host Policy was updated with eight major changes intended to clarify the University’s expectations and rules for its students, to protect Sewanee students, and create a safer social atmosphere.
These changes were summarized to the students from Dean of Students Marichal Gentry (C’89) in an email on August 15. Events with alcoholic beverages greater than 15 percent alcohol by volume may occur only at licensed venues. Attendees of legal drinking age may only bring alcohol that is below 15 percent alcohol by volume to BYOB events.
Additionally, the Undergraduate Student Social Host Policy also applies to graduation parties and all events with alcohol hosted by recognized student organizations must be registered 14 days in advance.
Students and recognized student organizations that host events must track attendance and recognized student organizations may not supply alcohol. All trash resulting from social events must be cleaned up by 7:30 a.m. the morning following the event. Finally, all social events must have sober monitors present, and these sober monitors must be trained.
Some of these changes clarified rules that were already in place, such as the expulsion of liquor from BYOB events, while others are brand new, like the sober monitor requirement. The policies coincide with the current administration’s vision for Sewanee to evolve into a safer, more responsible social community.
They attempt to define the “gray areas” of Sewanee’s social life that have caused confusion and friction between social organizations and the administration in the past. On August 15, 2019 these policy changes were put in place. Since arriving on campus, students have been scrambling to understand the specifics of these changes and what impact they will have on campus.
The University’s mission statement on Greek Life acknowledges Sewanee’s unique and fluid social environment, saying: “The thriving Greek Life community at Sewanee prides itself on the non-exclusive, ‘open’ design of fraternities and sororities on campus.”
Sewanee’s social institutions have prided themselves on inclusivity rather than exclusivity. Unlike larger colleges, Greek parties at Sewanee have never been dictated by strict guest lists, ID checking bouncers, or the necessity to “know somebody” in order to feel welcomed.
Some students fear that this cultural inclusivity is threatened by the administrations’ demands: by forcing students to check ID’s at the door, keep guests on a list, and register every alcohol-bearing event two weeks in advance. Sewanee’s Greek life seems to be becoming increasingly similar to its national counterparts.
Jacob Brumer (C’20), president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), states “we, the IFC, will fight to keep Sewanee the place it’s always been, and also work alongside the administration for the common goal that kids have fun, do it safely, and maintain the mantra of ‘work hard, play hard’ with responsibility.”
President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Carter Falk (C’20), constructed a student proposal to voice these concerns and find a resolution that works for everyone. The document was signed by 28 student leaders, including the president of the Order of the Gown, Nellie Fagan (C’20); the SGA president, Emma Burdett (C’20); the IFC president, Jacob Brumer, (C’20); the ISC president, Mary Mac Cowan (C’20); and the Chair of the Honor Council, Alexa Fults (C’21). They presented their proposal to Vice-Chancellor McCardell on September 3, 2019.
One of the students’ major concerns is the policy’s definition of an event as “a gathering hosted by individual students or one or more recognized student organizations.” Since every event must be registered for two weeks in advance and regulated (if alcohol is present), social organization members worry they are no longer allowed to casually, spontaneously congregate at their house.
“The worry of a lot of people had on campus was that the changes of the social host policy would hurt the spontaneity of Sewanee,” Falk explained.
The student proposal does not advocate for any major alterations to the Social Host Policy, but instead insists on a new distinction being added to the policy’s definition of event. From the student proposal: “On behalf of our constituents, we propose the following revision to the social host policy: under the terms and definitions section, an ‘event’ is defined as a gathering hosted by students of one or more recognized student organizations with an excess of 100 non-member guests in attendance.”
With this amendment, small gatherings that do not exceed this threshold do not require registration on Engage, sober monitors, nor ID checkers.
With the new rules and possibilities for organizational punishment, Greek members like Falk worry they will be forced to kick students out of their house during casual get togethers to protect themselves. In the past, any student could walk into any Greek or social house and expect to be welcomed and folded seamlessly into the fabric of the night. With the new policy, upperclassman fear they now must treat the incoming freshman with the very exclusivity they came to Sewanee to avoid.
Troy Huffines, Sewanee’s Chief of Police, recognizes that these new policies create new challenges for students and the police to tackle, but stresses that communication and cooperation between Social Organizations and the police will always be the best policy for students to keep their organizations up to regulations.
Huffines explains that the police department’s policy towards Social Organizations with the issue of an unexpected party will remain the same, “This has always been the standing rule. Nothing has changed! If you have a small party or gathering at your house and 100 people show up on your front lawn? You pick up the phone and call us. We’re not gonna cite you. We’re gonna come over and clear your yard out.”
Huffines ensures that the police are not out to cite small gatherings at social houses that are not bothering anyone, but still strongly suggests that organizations register any small gathering that could become a larger event in order to protect themselves as these policies are still being clarified. In the midst of conversations regarding policy minutiae and logistical confusion, Huffines understands the new predicament and will work with students ensuring each event will still be treated on a case-by-case basis.
On Saturday, August 31, TKP hosted the first major party under these new policies. They were vigilant in acquiring trained sober monitors, reserving police officers to accommodate the crowds, and marking of-aged students with a black “X” on their hand upon showing proper ID. Despite their preparation and due-diligence, the party soon spun out of control.
Huffines recounts how groups of students emerged from the woods into the house, undetected by the sober monitors, a student ran across the yard writing “X’s” on any hand they could grab, and the crowd ballooned to around 300 people as TKP members scrambled to find more monitors to account for the crowd. The police officers present helped TKP maintain the boisterous crowd, kept the party safe, and did not shut down the event prematurely or cite TKP for any violations.
On Monday, September 9, there will be a meeting between Vice-Chancellor McCardell and other prominent Sewanee leaders to address the student’s concerns about the new policy and possibly find a resolution.
Sewanee student leaders, especially in the senior class, were jolted to action by what they saw as a threat to the Sewanee experience. Unifying beyond divisions accumulated over the past three years, once again we can “behold how good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell together in unity.”