It’s been a particularly interesting week to be a student journalist. Not for a lack of news, of course. Anyone even vaguely paying attention to what’s happening on campus knows the students and administration have engaged in a tense, completely fascinating battle over autonomy, student protection, and social boundaries.
However, this conflict with policies, stemming from task force recommendations last April, provokes a far more interesting conversation: what does it mean to protect students? What is the school’s jurisdiction and responsibility, and have they overstepped their bounds?
I’m not mad because it's hard for fraternities to throw parties. I can’t blame Penn for wanting to combat underage drinking—who could possibly blame them for that? I appreciate the school’s efforts in protecting students, and I firmly believe there are important strides to be made when it comes to drinking and socializing safely.
However, I do have major concerns about the new policies, and I worry that rushed action will end in unforeseen consequences. What happens when social events are pushed off campus, out of MERT's reach? What happens when going out becomes dependent on your financial status? I can't help but admire the enormous impact the new regulations have already had—they've initiated hugely exciting and overdue conversations about the status of finances, social life, and safety on campus.
I am, ultimately, frustrated by the difficulty Street encountered when trying to write our feature. Katie Bonner, the executive director of the Office of Student Affairs, stood in front of group leaders to clarify new policies and read from a slide, “Not sure if you should register? Just ask!” Well, we’ve spent the last week trying to ask questions. And we've ended up with almost no answers.
Street had difficulty arranging an in–person meeting with any administrators, and ultimately was met by a written statement from the Vice Provost for University Life, which Street was encouraged to print in its entirety. However, the statement left us with more questions than answers. It boasted that out of the “49 applications for registered events…16 were approved.” But what happened to the other 33 events? The statement asked for suggestions from students, but only through September 30. Why the time limit? And, of course, why wasn’t a clarifying statement sent after immediate student backlash emailed out to the undergraduate population? For the record, you can read the statement here. I hope you can find more answers in it than I did.
I respect my university, and I respect how difficult it is to make large institutional change. I’m proud of Penn for taking steps to make campus safer for students. This week’s feature isn’t meant to criticize—it’s meant to disseminate information. What’s frustrating, however, is how difficult it was to gather this information.
I worry about the misinformation flying around campus. I want to keep students informed, up to date, and safe. Really, the administration and Street are on the same team. The Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street Magazine are the most accessible and balanced ways to receive campus news, and we want to keep providing that coverage, as cohesively and thoroughly as possible.
And if you want some more campus news? Check out this week’s feature.