A combination of tighter enforcement, social suspensions and changing priorities has led to a shift in Brown’s social scene.
Many of these changes have come as a result of the interim alcohol policy regulations implemented last January in response to concerns about sexual assault and alcohol abuse. The regulations are due for review at the end of this semester.
One aspect of the interim alcohol policy prohibits student organizations from hosting Class Fs — registered parties where alcohol is sold — in residence halls. The policy also stipulates that Class Fs use bartenders certified through the Brown Student Agency’s bartender programs, that drinks be mixed in front of the person being served and that no punchbowls be used.
The changes to Class Fs are aimed at making parties safer and fun for all, said Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life and Dining Services Richard Bova. “We’re not trying to take everything away. We’re trying to reorient it in a way that makes sense,” he said.
Initial frustration and confusion with policy changes have diminished as students have found ways to work within — and around — the interim policy. Now, almost a year into the changes, students and administrators alike are evaluating the effects of the regulations, finding mixed student reviews regarding Brown’s social scene and alcohol safety.
Playing by the rules
Before the interim policy took effect, Wriston Quadrangle was abuzz most weekends with themed Class F parties thrown by Greek organizations as well as other large parties — registered or not — with alcohol.
For many upperclassmen in Greek life who entered a relatively unregulated social scene at Brown as first-years, the changes came as a shock, said Meredith Heckman ’16 and Aaron Rosenthal ’16, co-chairs of Greek Council, which includes an elected executive board and the presidents of the Greek houses. These students had a largely negative response and viewed the interim alcohol policy as an unwelcome infringement on Wriston’s social scene, they said.
Heckman and Rosenthal agreed that misinformation was the primary issue underlying students’ concerns.
“A lot of people have been used to large social events happening in their lounges and didn’t realize they were breaking the rules,” Heckman said. Once the University began enforcing the policy changes, “Greek Council became a space that really tried to spread awareness and inform leaders that this wasn’t a rule change,” she said.
Whereas last semester’s Greek house leaders were largely frustrated with the policy changes, the current Greek Council has been willing to adapt in order to maintain its place in the social scene, Heckman and Rosenthal said.
Regardless of the policy changes, Greek organizations “were starting to move away from Class Fs because they were frustrated with” University requirements, Rosenthal said. He added that meeting the requirements to host a Class F was a hassle and house leaders would “rather run the risk of having an unregistered party.”
In Fall 2014, three fraternities and co-ed houses hosted four registered residential parties with alcohol, wrote Tim Shiner, director of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and student activities, in an email to The Herald. This semester, Alpha Epsilon Pi hosted a Class F and Alpha Delta Phi hosted a cocktail event — a guest list-only event with alcohol — in University spaces, he wrote.
Several organizations are currently prohibited from hosting registered parties — four of Brown’s five all-male fraternities are on social suspension.
As part of the policy change, ResLife and the Student Activities Office pay for the bulk of Class F costs. For AEPi’s annual BodyChem event — hosted this year in Alumnae Hall — the University covered the costs of security staff, an evening event manager, event service staff, custodial cleaning, pizza and on-sight Emergency Medical Technicians, Shiner said. The fraternity covered the DJ, sound system, table delivery and alcohol, he added.
Despite the bulk of the cost resting on the University, AEPi still lost money due to low attendance compared to previous years.
Rosenthal, a member of AEPi, cited errors on both sides: Not hosting the event in the fraternity’s house was “detrimental” because AEPi lost name recognition, and having a large group of security guards outside the event deterred potential attendees. But additionally, “AEPi did not do a phenomenal job of advertising the event,” Rosenthal added. “There was a drastic change from what the party usually accomplishes.”
Off campus or out of sight
While some houses are working within the policies, the president of another program house, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about University backlash against her house, said the policy has caused program houses to be more discreet in holding unregistered parties.
“The number of parties we host in the house has stayed the same,” she said. “But we try to be more careful because the consequences are more serious.”
The house tries to maintain a lower profile, and some individuals have been more reluctant to throw and attend parties in the house, the president said. Her house is also hesitant to register parties because — though doing so is supposed to make the events safer — the presence of Department of Public Safety officers makes the environment seem “more hostile,” she said.
This behavior shift has resulted in “a huge influx in the number of off-campus parties and parties downtown, which means a huge number of underage students leaving campus,” she said. Whereas parties used to spill onto Wriston Quad every weekend night, the place is now a “ghost town,” she added.
Heckman and Rosenthal also said they think many upperclassmen now prefer to attend house parties off campus, leaving on-campus parties for underclassmen. In addition, “students have been going downtown to clubs more frequently,” Heckman said.
But strictly in terms of numbers, there has not been a major decline in parties. Last fall, there were 19 events registered with the University, including events with and without alcohol, Shiner wrote in an email to The Herald. So far this semester, there have been 15. The parties have been hosted not only by Greek houses, but also by program houses and other student groups.
“There’s some research that shows this trend to lower rates of high-risk behavior with minimal displacement,” Shiner said, adding that noise complaints about off-campus parties have also not increased.
Shifting the social scene
With greater University enforcement over unregistered parties, some Greek houses are moving away from hosting parties with alcohol altogether.
The co-ed fraternities ADPhi and Zeta Delta Xi both decided to host their traditional house parties without alcohol, and the events proved to be major successes, Heckman said. Since both parties were registered with the University, ResLife and SAO picked up many of the costs, providing music, event staff and pizza.
One major misconception of the restrictive policies is that no events are allowed in residential areas at all, Shiner said.
In addition to ADPhi and Zete, three student groups have also hosted residential parties without alcohol this semester, Shiner wrote. Last fall, only two groups hosted registered residential parties without alcohol.
Lance Gloss ’18, a member of West House, one of the environmental program houses, emphasized the importance of finding social outlets outside of heavy partying.
West House “tries to enact community in other ways” including by hosting daily communal meals and a weekly meal open to individuals unaffiliated with the environmental program houses, Gloss said. Members of every house can achieve a social presence unrelated to partying by “reconsidering the environment (they) want to socialize in,” he added.
Gloss pointed to the underlying theme of the policy, which is creating safer environments in which people can socialize and drink.
“The fact the University feels the need to regulate the way we interact through alcohol policy is indicative of a genuine problem with the way we’ve been socialized,” Gloss said.
The Class F policies have also helped turn Greek life away from a “socially oriented” mindset involving parties and alcohol, Heckman and Rosenthal said, citing this as contributing to a positive change in the Greek system.
“We’re trying to implement system-wide change,” Rosenthal said. “We’re trying to reinvent how the Greek system is perceived and how we function as a collective on campus.”
These changes entail empowering houses to exceed the standards set by the council, Heckman said. Greek Council is now focusing on cementing philanthropic work as a cornerstone of Greek life on campus, reworking constitutions, creating a mission statement and focusing on creating safe spaces within and for the Brown community.
Kate Tompkins, associate director for off-campus living and programs for ResLife, noted that this shift in focus has been developing for several years.
“The Greek houses realized that as the culture shifts, they need to shift with it,” she said.
Working to integrate the policies into the Greek system has allowed the houses to “come together as a whole,” Rosenthal said, adding that “there’s a new level of respect for each other that wasn’t there previously.”
Alex Palabrica ’17, president of Delta Tau and philanthropy chair for Greek Council, said the fraternity has tried its best to “take advantage of the rules” to implement positive restructuring.
“Not only does it create safer environments, it’s allowed us to reorganize and place an emphasis on building community,” Palabrica said.
“The enforcement coming down from the University has led the houses to realize that if they’re not actively creating a safe space then they are complicit in creating opportunities for bad things to happen,” Heckman said. “That’s a really positive change.”
Though misinformation caused initial backlash, frustration has cooled as students have come to understand the policy changes, Shiner said. Based on his interactions with students, Shiner characterized the response to the policies as “fairly divided.”
Shiner said while some students have voiced continuing dissatisfaction, he has “heard from at least an equal number of students that they really prefer it — that it’s made their living area more pleasant.” The policy’s supporters include students who were initially concerned about the change, Shiner added.
Feedback from Greek and program houses has also been mixed, Tompkins said.
Shiner said some students told him they are grateful for the change because they previously felt uncomfortable approaching their peers to address partying in the dorms.
Sazzy Gourley ’16, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, noted Wriston’s unique residential setup as a primary contributor to that discomfort.
“Our residential spaces house potentially two different fraternities, then in the middle, house independent living spaces, creating a very different residential dynamic than we see at other universities,” Gourley said. “When there are social events thrown in those spaces, there’s more potential for tensions to develop when things are not communicated fully.”
Both Gourley and Shiner recognized the range of concerns students have with the policy changes and emphasized the intensive reviews SAO, ResLife and the Alcohol and Social Event Review Committee are conducting to address these concerns and collect feedback.
For current underclassmen, Class Fs are now almost pointless to attend, Palabrica said. The events provide alcohol, but only for legal drinkers, and first-years “don’t want the cool party they’re attending to be in Kasper Multipurpose Room,” he said. “There is a social stigma.”
Gourley noted that there are fewer large parties in general and that many students party in off-campus houses. Even with this shift, the downturn in partying was not as “drastic” as students expected, he said.
Regardless of the hesitancy to attend Class Fs in University spaces, “it’s a necessary part of changing the culture,” Palabrica said. “There was so much anarchy in how parties were run. This is a good step.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Lance Gloss ’18 is president of the Environmental House. In fact, he is a member of West House, one of two environmental program houses. The article also misstated that the house hosts weekly communal meals. In fact, it hosts daily communal meals, and one meal per week is open to individuals unaffiliated with the group.