By Shira Kipnees, Staff Writer ||
Last week, a student group known as the Coalition for Student Safety (CSS) circulated a petition around campus resulting from the disapproval of F&M’s “First Night Out” initiative, which the group claimed endangered first-year students. The petition garnered over 413 signatures, including 58 current and former house advisers (HAs) or peer advisers (PAs) and eight former orientation planning directors (OPDs), among other student leaders.
Beginning in August, student leaders involved in Greek Life and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life discussed the possibility of a “First Night Out” initiative at F&M as a way for first-year students to get acclimated to the campus. Among other points, the initiative included a ban on first-year students attending fraternity parties until Thursday, Sept. 25.
“The idea was to not allow first-years to attend fraternity and sorority events where alcohol is served until the ‘First Night Out’ event, which was scheduled for Thursday, Sept 25,” said Margaret Hazlett, dean of the College. “The reason for the late date was that the fraternities needed time to get organized for Fall [Rush Week], which is slated for the week and weekend before.”
Zachary Fried ’15, author of the petition and organizer for the CSS, objected to the College’s “First Night Out” initiative since its announcement. However, it was not until the first weekend of this school year, when he saw the number of student hospital transports, that he decided to establish the CSS and write the petition.
“My hope was that it would show those who initially implemented the policy that the students, who know and understand student culture, would rally to make sure that first-year students are able to attend parties that don’t pose the same risks that unregistered parties do,” Fried said.
Fried explained his belief that this petition is important because it provides a forum for students across campus to speak out against the “First Night Out” initiative, arguing that unregulated, unregistered parties that occur at off-campus locations pose more of a hazard to students than fraternities. He also noted that the student body received the petition positively, with most signing without hesitation.
“This is an issue that many students are passionate about, particularly those heavily involved in the housing system, such as HAs and PAs,” Fried said. “They see first-hand what happens when fraternity parties are shut down, and so the [“First Night Out” initiative] was particularly frightening to them. Their primary goal is the safety and health of their residents. The petition garnered support from all corners of campus.”
Ultimately, as a result of the petition and an ongoing conversation with the administration, the decision to continue or discontinue the program was given to student leaders in the Greek community, who decided to end the “First Night Out” initiative.
Hazlett noted that, in the future, the “First Night Out” initiative may continue in some form as a way to offer alternate events for new students in an effort to provide a safe environment for
members of the F&M community.
“It is my hope that the petition can help to initiate a broader campus conversation on the alcohol culture here at F&M,” Hazlett said. “While some students may feel that a fraternity house is a safe place to party, there are many students who feel quite unsafe in that setting.”
However, she noted that the underlying issue went beyond fraternity parties.
“I think the larger issues that need to be examined are the high levels of pre-gaming and binge drinking that occur, issues that many college campuses grapple with,” Hazlett continued. “Are we fostering a culture of wellness? How do we work together to ensure that students are making smart choices, stepping in to stop a friend who has had too much from going farther, offering weekend social alternatives? I look forward to engaging students and having students engage each other in challenging the perceived campus norm and setting a higher bar towards a more vibrant, safer, and healthier student community.”
In the end, with the reversal of the policy, first-year students were permitted to attend fraternity parties beginning on Thursday, Sept. 11 as opposed to the planned date of Thursday, Sept. 25.
“I’m grateful that the administration and other parties took the student’s perspective into consideration when handling such a delicate situation,” Fried said.
Senior Shira Kipnees is a staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.