The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Michael Tobin died at FIJI one year ago today. The campus is still feeling the aftershocks. Michael Tobin died at FIJI one year ago today. The campus is still feeling the aftershocks.Part one of four In the early morning hours of March 21, 1999, Michael Tobin's lifeless body was found lying behind the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house at 3619 Locust Walk. Tobin, a 26-year-old alumnus and FIJI brother, fell down a flight of stairs to his death after a night of drinking at the fraternity house and in local bars. Stunned by the death, the campus was forced to examine its social climate, with particular attention paid to student alcohol abuse. Within days, University President Judith Rodin announced a ban on alcohol at undergraduate events while the school reviewed its policy. Students erupted angrily in protest against the decision, staging the largest student rally the school had seen in the 1990s. More than 1,000 students gathered on College Green to protest the lack of consultation with students prior to the implementation of the ban. But despite the heated campus controversy, students, administrators and faculty members worked together on a task force --Ethe provost-led Working Group on Alcohol Abuse -- which in five weeks produced a series of recommendations for a new alcohol policy that administrators hoped would, over time, change Penn's social culture. The policy, which was fully implemented in the fall, called for new disciplinary and educational measures, increased monitoring at on-campus parties and also outlined an ambitious range of social programming goals. The committee's hope was that through more social outlets -- such as the recommended alcohol-free music club or late-night movies -- students would have other options besides drinking on a Saturday night. A year later, the number of big fraternity parties has visibly decreased, and there are University-sponsored alcohol-free social events every weekend. But students say the amount of drinking at Penn has remained constant and that the culture at Penn -- long known as the social Ivy -- has stayed the same, with many parties simply going underground. "Parties a year ago were much bigger, though I think now we still have the same amount of alcohol," College junior Kelli Toland said. Still, administrators and WGAA members say that while changes cannot happen overnight, definite progress has been made in shifting the campus social scene away from just drinking. "You can't expect students who are used to a certain lifestyle to suddenly make the change," said Undergraduate Assembly Treasurer Michael Bassik, a College junior who served on the WGAA. "It's a part of the overall goal of changing the culture towards [the recognition] of the abusive use of alcohol," said Provost Robert Barchi, who spent much of his first months in office dealing with the fall-out from Tobin's death. Bassik, who currently serves on Barchi's alcohol advisory group -- the Alcohol Rapid Response Team -- added, "We can't attempt to change the number of students who drink, but [to change] the environment in which they drink." Over the past semester, the University has worked with various groups and organizations on campus to increase the number of non-alcoholic social options available to students. The 12 college houses are each responsible for hosting three events per semester as part of the Penn P.M. program. Each house is assigned three random dates for a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. It is then at their discretion to plan the activities. In addition to the implementation of new events and activities, Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said that there has been an increased awareness of pre-existing activities. "It's unfair to say that a year ago nothing happened at Penn except parties where people drank," Brownlee said. The activities at Harrison College House have been lauded and very well attended, according to House Dean Art Casciato. Rooftop dances with specific themes, ranging from Sinatra and Antipasto to salsa dancing, pool tournaments and all-night movie marathons have been just a few of the house's offerings this past semester. The Office of the Vice Provost for University Life has also been a leader in the planning of non-alcoholic entertainment options for Penn students. The neighborhood festival, the Def Comedy Jam and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher have all been part of the VPUL's offerings, according to Alcohol Policy Coordinator Stephanie Ives, whose position was created last fall as a result of a WGAA recommendation. And student groups on campus have also taken the initiative to plan activities for University students. The Social Planning and Events Committee, for instance, has hosted movie screening nights at Irvine Auditorium, as well as concerts. Coffee houses and Kelly Writers House events have also been offered. Barchi also noted that the opening of Perelman Quadrangle this summer will provide a range of eating options and late-night social spaces catering to student needs. He added that other social recommendations, such as the proposed bowling alley, will come to Penn if it can find space and resources. But as University-sponsored social events have increased, the number of on-campus parties have gone down -- perhaps because of the increased party monitoring. Greek on-campus parties have severely dropped off and there has been a visible movement of once on-campus parties to off-campus locations. Wharton senior Bill Conway, the former chairman of the Undergraduate Assembly and a WGAA member, recalled his freshman year at Penn, when "there were three or four fraternity parties every weekend." The Phi Kappa Psi brother added that "the amount of on-campus parties has been steadily declining for a long time? and the alcohol policy just sped that up." Conway noted that those who want to drink still have that option, but "almost to a stronger degree because [they'll] go somewhere unmonitored." Conway also noted the negative ramifications that have resulted from the University's stance. "This could just be my perception, but I feel like there is more drug use, and I think that people who have a problem with alcohol are in more danger," he said. Drug and Alcohol Resource Team President Molly MacDonald, a Nursing junior, said she believed that the new policy had not affected drug use on campus. She did add, however, that she saw an increase in illegal drug use during Spring Fling last year, which occurred in the middle of the five-week alcohol ban. "I think a lot more people were under the influence of substances than in years past," she said of last year's Fling, attributing it to the alcohol ban. Administrators said there are no plans to make Penn a dry campus again. And most WGAA members said they are pleased with the progress of the policy over the past semester. Barchi said he likes that many parties have moved off campus to monitored locations, such as bars or restaurants. "These are the best places where you can have these kind of events," he said, noting that he has the highest confidence in registered off-campus functions.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.