College implements new third-party security policy impacting fraternity parties

Photo courtesy of unigo.com.

By Katherine Coble || News Editor

Over the course of the last year, F&M has been working to implement new social policies the require third-party security at Greek social events. The new policy, crafted over the summer, mandates that fraternities hire and pay a third-party security company (vetted and approved by the College) to assist with at least one of their social events every month. According to Dean Hazlett, many of these changes have come about in response to the death of Timothy Piazza at Pennsylvania State University last February, saying that Piazza’s death marked a “new change in the landscape” because in the aftermath of the incident 26 brothers were charged with nearly 900 charges including involuntary manslaughter. The case is among the largest hazing prosecutions in American history. In light of these legal ramifications, many colleges and universities have been scrambling to re-evaluate their policies related to fraternity parties and reduce the liability risks of fraternity brothers during said events.

Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett and Senior Associate Dean of the College Maria Flores-Mills began working alongside Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Stuart Umberger to determine how the College could, in the words of Dean Hazlet, “continually assist our fraternity leadership in managing their parties safely for everybody, recognizing that they are increasingly facing significant challenges in hosting large gatherings”.

Hazlett also acknowledged the increased scrutiny national fraternal organizations are putting their chapters under to ensure that the proper rules are being followed for liability and insurance purposes. After investigating “what many colleges and universities with Greek systems were starting to do” and examining how F&M’s social scene operated, the College decided that “a combination of limiting the number of parties per semester as well as initiating third-party security once a month” would “help our fraternity leadership manage these large gatherings” in order to “protect them and assist them.”

When asked if student input was factored into the policy-making process, Dean Hazlett said that because the policy was about “health and safety” decisions were made without student consultation. Hazlet also said that Public Safety was additionally not consulted in the crafting of the policy and were made aware of the policy in the fall at the same time as the student body, a decision she described as a “misstep.” However, student response – which Dean Flores Mills described as “not consistently positive” – has contributed to several adjustments to the policy’s enforcement. For example, third-party security workers began wearing identifying name tags on December 1 to respond to student concerns over allegations of physical harassment by third-party security and a desire to increase reporting of these incidents.

Although The College Reporter reached out to both the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council to hear their perspectives on the new policy, they declined to comment for this story. One former fraternity president agreed to speak on the record with the condition of strict anonymity. According to him, the administration dictated the third-party security policy to the fraternity community and ordered them to comply or have their ability to host social functions to completely revoked. He expressed the view that this would have a detrimental impact on the fraternity’s ability to recruit new members and survive as an organization – although fraternities are about much more than social engagement, it is still an important part of the fraternity experience. “We’re not in a position where we get to say whether we like it or not,” the fraternity president explained. “We hate it. We absolutely hate it. But we have to tell the administration that we like it. It’s all fake.” He additionally said he “[doesn’t] know if Greek life is going to be sustainable” under the policy.

One major criticism of the policy has been the financial burden placed on fraternity brothers. According to Dean Hazlett, the then-president of the Interfraternity Council was made aware of the policy in late August. By this point, the anonymous president pointed out, fraternities had already crafted their budgets for the semester and in some cases had already collected dues from their members. Consequently, the price of paying for private security is “coming out of people’s personal pockets” in at least one organization’s case. The fraternity brother expressed frustration that the cost of paying for security falls on fraternities while the mandate comes from the administration. Additionally, Dean Flores-Mills confirmed that only one Lancaster-area security company thus far has been willing to take on the liability of regulating fraternity parties and vetted by the school, leaving fraternity brothers with no options for which service they want to pay for. The anonymous president expressed frustration at the administration’s desire for F&M’s fraternity system to become more inclusive while simultaneously requiring an increase in financial commitment from fraternity men. He additionally questioned the sustainability of the policy, saying that the financial burden of hiring private security once a month may prove too great for certain fraternities to maintain.

A second criticism of the policy involves general student safety. Dean Hazlett and Dean Flores-Mills stated that the primary function of the security officers is to make sure F&M’s policies about alcohol in fraternity houses are being followed. These include wristbanding students that are under 21, students under 21 not being allowed to drink, and fraternity parties themselves being BYOB. Some of these policies are also mandated by national fraternal organizations, such as having a strict guest list and checking IDs. When asked if the third-party security officers are meant to merely enforce the rules or serve broader safety-related role, Dean Hazlett said that “first and foremost” their function is to enforce the policies required of fraternities and F&M’s fraternity life office – which in turn, she stated, leads to safer parties for everyone.

However, student organizations like F&M Sexual Assault and Violence Elimination have expressed concern that the third-party security is having an overall negative impact on student wellness. The Diplomatic Congress said in a statement that “the Congress believes in student safety across all of campus life, especially concerning the improvement of third-party security. We look forward to supporting S.A.V.E in their efforts on holding a forum about this concern, introducing third-party security name tags and evaluating third-party security interactions with students.”

There is concern that the sudden changes to fraternity parties are pushing students into “the lofts,” which, due to their nature as privately registered parties outside of the limits placed on fraternities by their national organizations, are not going to be under scrutiny from third-party security according to Dean Flores-Mills. The anonymous fraternity president argued that despite common stereotypes, he believes fraternity houses are “actually the safest places to go and have social events on campus. There’s no hard alcohol there, only beer, and there’s usually a brotherhood effort to keep people safe” because “if something happens at a fraternity, we know we’re going to get in trouble for it.”

The anonymous former fraternity president also expressed concerns about how drunk underage students are treated after they are removed from the party by third-party security for violating the rules. “That’s the difference between us running the party and them running the party. When someone leaves our house, they don’t just leave our house. They get taken out and walked all the way back… that’s something you’ll never get with [security].” Dean Hazlett said that the third-party security works with brothers to respond to situations on a case-by-case basis and that their goal is to “help the brothers run safe parties.”

This semester the amount of underage students involved in alcohol-related incidents reported by Public Safety has nearly tripled compared to last semester. Some student organizations, such as F&M Sexual Assault and Violence Elimination, have expressed concerns that students are increasingly “pre-gaming” fraternity parties because they are aware that they will not consume alcohol after they arrive at the venue. However, as Dean Flores-Mills has pointed out, there is no way to prove correlation between the policy and an increase in alcohol violations, especially because certain periods of the academic year tend to have higher rates of these violations than others. Dean Hazlett also stated that more information needs to be gathered to determine what changes, if any, have been made to student drinking habits in the past semester. “This policy is about helping these men manage parties with large groups of people,” Hazlett said. “That’s number one to me. That’s most important.”

When asked if the new policy is meant to encourage a larger culture shift around drinking at F&M’s campus, both Dean Flores-Mills and Dean Hazlett stated that the administration is not accountable for the personal decision-making of students. Dean Hazlett said, “Did I do this to combat binge-drinking? No. That wasn’t the reason. We implemented it to look at how to help fraternities manage these large parties well.” However, the fraternity president takes a different view. “I think the school should care about [personal decision-making]… In some shape or form, F&M should be responsible for the personal well-being of their students. If a vast amount of students are making ‘irresponsible decisions’, then F&M, in my opinion, has some kind of obligation to step in.”

The future of the policy remains in flux: while Dean Flores-Mills stated that she doesn’t “anticipate it going away,” the school is still making minor adjustments and the policy will “continue to evolve” over time. There is additionally uncertainty over whether or not President Dan Porterfield’s departure from the College will have any impact on the College’s current policies. For now the entire F&M community must wait and see what is to come for the policy and for student life.

Sophomore Katherine Coble is the news editor. Her email is kcoble@fandm.edu.

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