To err is to be human, but to be a Penn administrator is to never learn from those mistakes.
Penn likes to put off problems and never solve them. A task force is the perfect way to do that — a group of people only semi-qualified or unqualified to deal with a situation, assembled with a vague and convoluted purpose in mind. A 1999 task force at Penn attempted to tackle the issue of alcohol abuse in response to several incidents. At the time, 94 percent of Penn students believed that no policy change would affect their alcohol consumption.
One student in particular was quoted as saying that any changes would merely push the appeal of off-campus parties. I was shocked to learn on-campus parties were ever popular, as there are so few today.
The 1999 task force ended up making several recommendations, including a genius suggestion for a “late-night, alcohol-free music club” that was never implemented, much to my dismay. Of these suggestions, two subsections resonated with me most, as they represent opposite ends of Penn's alcohol-related policies today: "Ensuring a Supportive Environment" and "Minimizing Risk."
"Ensuring a Supportive Environment" represents the idea of relaxing alcohol-related policies in order to encourage students with issues to seek help. "Minimizing Risk" targets tightening alcohol-related policies in order to discourage the issues from happening in the first place and to reduce the University’s liability. These two concepts are checks and balances on a college campus, especially since they require the University to turn a blind eye to inevitable yet illegal behavior in order to maintain a degree of openness with its students.
That is something Task Force Chair and Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum does not understand. Cade’s task was to oversee the portion of the hot-button “Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community” aimed at creating an on-campus culture “free of sexual [assault], alcohol [and substance] abuse, and other [inappropriate] behavior.”
The final report is rife with references to booze and unsanctioned behavior, yet not a single reference to sexual assault or harassment can be found.
How can we tackle the issue of sexual assault if we cannot call it out by name? Cade's actions indicate she believes alcohol and a “fraternized” campus culture have a causal relationship with sexual assault. To tackle the implications of alcohol abuse and hazing is one matter — to tackle the issue of sexual assault is another. They are not analogous substitutes.
Cade’s failure to address all three of her tasks has only led to an increase in the secrecy and victim-blaming attitudes that got us here in the first place. Organizations do not have the funds nor the desire to comply with ridiculous new event guidelines — not to mention, these guidelines fail to address any real issues. Cade’s counterparts Maureen S. Rush and Beth Winkelstein were tasked with increasing enforcement and awareness of safety and responsibility-related policies, jobs they have been extremely successful at.
Cade was unable to see that she was the complement to Rush and Winkelstein. We now only have policies that "Minimiz[e] Risk" and none that "Ensur[e] a Supportive Environment". All this being said, this is by no means a personal attack, and Cade deserves little blame in this situation. Her training clearly demonstrates a background in adolescent psychology and the finance and bureaucracy of education. A woman so skilled in bureaucracy has no place in a situation requiring immediate action. She does not have the skill set to tackle such a nuanced set of issues, and Penn President Amy Gutmann should never have appointed her in the first place.
Penn administration and Gutmann need to do away with ridiculous task forces and find people with appropriate and adequate training whose specific jobs are to tackle the tough issues on campus, like rape culture, if they wish to actually enact any change. They need someone who steps up and provides clearly reasoned policies and procedures, implemented with hard deadlines in mind, in order to try to foster the type of cultural shift so many students and faculty desire. We just want Penn to be a place where students feel safe and comfortable and at ease with the administration.
What they’re doing now is nothing short of alienating and incompetent.
BLAZE BERNSTEIN is a College sophomore from Foothill Ranch, Calif.
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