On the House: Policing the Policy in the student handbook

Gabby Guerard
@GabbyGuerard

It’s 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. The calm before the storm. Students eat a big meal, so that their stomachs aren’t empty.

It’s 8 p.m. Students finally decide on their outfits, finish up their makeup, and start pouring. The music is bumping.

It’s 10 p.m. Waves of people start flowing out of their dorms and down Alden Street. They arrive at the Townhouses, where students reunite with all their friends. It’s never a place for fights or altercations; it’s a place where students can laugh, dance, and enjoy a stress-free night. Or so they thought.

Since the start of the 2018-19 school-year, the Townhouse backyards have earned a different reputation among the student body. Unlike previous years, this area has been filled with Public Safety Officers, who approach students asking to see IDs, tell them to pour out drinks, and have changed the entire atmosphere from stress-free to stressful.

“I’ve never seen it like that before,” said junior Nick Almonte. “There were probably double-digit cops and easily five cop cars right in front, so you had to walk by them. They would randomly stop people and ask them to show their backpack.”

“Most people who live there are 21, yet they were being very strict to everyone,” said an upperclassman. “Someone who lived at the Townhouses had an open bottle and they were 21, but Public Safety made them dump the whole thing and told them that they couldn’t have it.”

Much of the frustrations among the student body is simply due to confusion. Campus officials such as RAs and Public Safety Officers have been strictly enforcing all policies of the Handbook this year, which has stirred up much controversy among the students. This has led to some getting written up for behaviors that have not consistently been recorded violations in the past. The result: students angry and unclear as to what the alcohol policies are on a wet campus.

Particularly gray areas for students remain the upperclassmen housing. The College has made significant efforts to have all students reside on campus, as a means of safety in the city of Springfield. About a third of the student body are 21, and may legally consume alcohol. Apartment style housing also incorporates a new element: a common area within each rooming assignment. Often students find themselves in situations where some of the residents are 21 while others are not.

Due to the complex nature of a campus filled with students aged between 18-22, many would assume that the Handbook would be extremely specific to help clarify these gray areas. The recent enforcement of all rules has raised a number of questions among the student-body, primarily regarding phrases that are not defined and situations not addressed.

“I was an RA for two years, and let me tell you something about the Handbook: if it doesn’t make any sense to you, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” one student said. “As an RA, if I had to write someone up, do you know how many people would raise good points? And you’re stuck, like, ‘Well you just raised a good point, but I can’t help you because it’s not in the Handbook.’”

For example, terminology such as “possession,” “large quantities,” “drinking paraphernalia,” “drinking games,” “present,” and “interference,” are all included in the Handbook, however none of the terms listed above are defined. This has left students feeling unclear as to what is and is not allowed, often leading to write-ups.

“We were playing a game and we thought it was unfair, because we are 21, there wasn’t a clear definition of what a drinking game is or isn’t, and there was no alcohol involved,” explained junior Jamie Matteo. This situation resulted in a write-up.

Being responsible for updating the Handbook each year and enforcing disciplinary procedures, David Hall, Assistant Vice President For Student Affairs recognizes this frustration, and explained that, “The policy is meant to be not descriptive of every little piece.” According to Hall, the College’s overarching policy is, ‘More likely than not,’ meaning that if a situation has multiple elements that point to a violation, that’s most likely the case. This allows for a sense of flexibility to fit each scenario appropriately.

Hall also understands how a lack of specificity can often lead to inconsistency. “There 50 something RAs on campus, there’s 20 something Public Safety Officers, there’s always this discretion and way of doing things, as far as how they interact with people and how they interpret the policies where there’s always probably a little play in how they will enforce it on the spot,” he said. “Some people are very black and white, others see more gray. There’s always some discretion there.”

While there will always be some discretion, Hall does anything he can to best understand what the student perspective is like. Last weekend, he even visited the Townhouse backyards for the third time in his career at Springfield College.

“There’s part of me that likes going because I don’t have any problem engaging with students whether they’ve been drinking or not, without coming there to enforce any policy. I would never write anybody up or ask if they were 21, that’s not my role. That’s public safety. I just enjoy talking to people along the fenceline,” said Hall. “I do think if you’re going to do my job, you have to see it to understand what it’s like and you can’t just make decisions from a distance.”

This sense of discretion and student concerns have led The Student to launch a series of stories this fall on issues related to alcohol at Springfield College. Topics include: deciphering through the Handbook policies, speaking with students who don’t drink, assessing the nightlife options on and surrounding campus, alcohol and sports teams, the connection between alcohol and sexual assault, and how other schools grapple with alcohol issues. Next week we will dive into the specific Handbook policies and define them more clearly for students to better understand.

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