Like in time immemorial, New Student Orientation 2009 saw campus late-night explode into life as Beige Block teemed and Wawa boomed. Freshmen made plenty of new friends - including alcohol - and suffered the inevitable consequences. Parties were thrown, phone numbers exchanged, and poor old Ben Franklin probably got a lot more liquid refreshment than he wanted. Generally, NSO 2009 mirrored those that had come before it: ugly, fast, exciting and the best introduction to college life that the Class of 2013 could have asked for.
But that wasn't the way it was supposed to be. This year was meant to be different. The Undergraduate Assembly - of which I was recently elected a member - worked in tandem with a number of University entities and student groups to increase late-night programming and curb underage consumption. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs adopted stringent new policies regarding on-campus fraternity parties, while the Department of Public Safety dispersed unregistered gatherings with a vengeance. All of these actions were aimed at diminishing "traditional" NSO culture, and - gauged by that measure - none of them achieved much success.
As reported in last week's DP, official late-night events often became impromptu pit stops between dorm room pregaming and off-campus partying. Meanwhile, tight policing of the number of "wet" fraternity parties permitted on campus served to frustrate those Greeks trying to stick by the rules. Under OFSA guidelines, just two events involving alcohol were officially sanctioned over the entire course of NSO. According to a fraternity president speaking on condition of anonymity, such restrictions only encouraged more chapters than usual to gravitate toward off-campus houses - pushing the party center westward and even further beyond the protection of campus.
The University's new NSO initiatives didn't fail because they were bad ideas - they failed because they funneled their energy into exterminating, rather than acknowledging, an integral component of NSO culture. So long as freshmen come to Penn, they will continue to discover new bad habits, drinking chief among them. No amount of policing will entirely eliminate consumption from NSO night life - and no amount of policing should have to. Future University initiatives should be crafted with an eye toward recognizing the ingrained nature of NSO drinking culture, while keeping the process as safe and close to home as possible.
Current fraternity party regulation demonstrates how relatively small policy changes may produce some very big steps in this direction. According to Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ajay Nair, initiatives "included, for the first time in many years, registered Greek parties during NSO." While the shift was a positive one, it was hampered by severe limitations on the number of "wet" events that only made off-campus options more appealing.
This needn't always be the case. According to InterFraternity Council President and Wharton senior Shawn Woodhull, "Going forward, I believe that NSO 2010 can be improved by giving more fraternity chapters in good standing opportunities to host on-campus events." By increasing the number of sanctioned "wet" events and reducing scrutiny of unregistered on-campus parties, the University can halt NSO's westward creep and bring more freshmen back under the University's security umbrella. Such a change will reward positive Greek behavior and make NSO safer while leaving the customary late-night experience largely untouched.
Good NSO policy will continue to require a balancing act between the conflicting demands of safety and convenience, awareness and tradition. Accordingly, the University should seek solutions that complement, not combat, NSO's distinct late-night culture. This kind of reform can only make NSO better - and keep one of Penn's most sacred traditions intact.
Emerson Brooking is a College junior from Turnerville, Ga. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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