Along with much of the Penn community on any given Saturday night, Class of '02 School of Social Work alumnus Ron Wedgeworth can be seen mingling with students, inconspicuously bouncing to the music and partaking in the revelry of a fraternity party.
But unlike the others, Wedgeworth, having already committed to be alcohol-free for the evening, is vigilantly observing everything around him, subtly but attentively taking note of each and every alcohol-related behavior.
Wedgeworth is not a designated driver or a sober brother, but rather one of the University's head alcohol monitors. It is his duty to observe registered parties on campus, ensuring that party hosts adhere to Penn's alcohol policies.
"We work with the hosts to make sure that the University's rules regarding alcohol are followed to make the party as safe as possible," fellow head alcohol monitor and Class of '03 alumnus Ben Fryer said. "We basically just watch and make sure everything goes well."
Despite this seemingly limited role, according to the administration, the monitors have played a vital role in ensuring the safety of guests at registered parties since their advent in 1999.
Trained staff alcohol monitors were incorporated into the University's revamped alcohol policy in 1999, following the death of Penn alumnus Michael Tobin at a fraternity party.
Under the current system, which replaced a "peer monitoring" approach, alcohol monitors are typically graduate and professional students who have been screened, hired and trained by Director of Alcohol Policy Initiatives Stephanie Ives. Although many -- such as Wedgeworth -- have a background in either security and crowd control or alcohol abuse and treatment, all monitors must undergo an extensive training program to educate them on risk-reducing tactics and techniques.
"A lot of people would prefer the previous system of peer monitoring, in which brothers from other fraternities would monitor alcohol usage," Fryer said. "But the professional alcohol monitors have helped to keep parties much safer."
An essential component of Penn's strategy is not to have the 25 staff alcohol monitors -- at least one of whom must be present at every registered party on campus -- enforce the University's alcohol policy themselves. Rather, they report their observations to the hosts, who assume the responsibility for addressing violations when registering the event with Alcohol Policy Initiatives.
"It's not our party, so we don't card, serve or intervene unless there's an extreme emergency," Fryer said. "We don't take an active role because the responsibility for running a safe party is always on the host. We're technically also there as guests."
Although the University's current alcohol policy affords the monitors limited power and places more responsibility on other individuals, the division of accountability is actually beneficial, according to Ives.
"With their current role, no one person has to worry about carding, wristbands, serving and crowd control at once," Ives said. "The benefit of the current policy is that tasks are divvied up, which means there are more sober people in charge and the party will be safer."
Once they have notified hosts of policy violations, alcohol monitors document offenses and report them to Ives' office, which is part of the Office of Health Education.
"After bringing [violations] to the attention of hosts, we basically document any infractions and describe if and how they were corrected," Wedgeworth said. "Once we've done that, the problems and any penalties are basically out of our hands."
Because of their limited ability to directly confront or remedy unsafe situations, monitors say the success of the program stems primarily from their very presence, which frequently prevents unsafe or illegal behavior in the first place.
"I don't ever say anything to the doorman, but I watch over his shoulder and make sure he's carding appropriately," Wedgeworth said. "Just the fact that I'm there watching is a huge deterrent. He's much less likely to freely hand out wristbands."
But despite the successes that administrators assert the alcohol monitoring program has achieved over the past five years, monitors acknowledge that there is always more that they can do to guarantee party safety, particularly in the wake of College junior Matt Paris' fall from the upper floor of the Psi Upsilon fraternity house earlier this semester.
The Pi Kappa Alpha brother fell two stories to the basement floor after reportedly consuming 21 shots. He spent more than a month at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania before moving to the Moss Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia.
"I have become much more vigilant of stair traffic in the past few weeks," Wedgeworth said. "Although I recognized it before, we have been watching the stairs much more closely at every party in the past few weeks, so that we can make parties even safer."Comments powered by Disqus
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