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Last year, Penn Police made only 29 arrests for the illegal consumption of alcohol within the Penn Patrol Zone. The year before, they made two. But in a 34th Street Magazine survey last spring, more than 40 percent of respondents said they consume more than 10 drinks in an average weekend.

Much less than 40 percent of Penn’s undergraduate population is of legal drinking age. So how does everyone manage to fly under the radar?


Penn seems to want to shield its students from legal repercussions for illegal drinking and drug use.

Penn State had 805 alcohol-related arrests on campus in 2013 — around 2 percent of its undergraduate population. Michigan State University and West Virginia University, also large public schools similar to Penn State, reported alcohol-related arrests for a similar percentage of their undergraduate populations.

The 29 arrests at Penn in 2013 represent just 0.3 percent of total undergraduates, though the arrests may not all have been Penn students.

“We aren’t looking to see how many students we can arrest,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. “Our police are so cuddly with the students — municipal police would never have that kind of patience. They’re just really good people who would do anything to make sure students don’t get arrested or cited,” she said, noting that students are often grateful for the Division of Public Safety.

“DPS tends to de-emphasize the need for things like citations. They recognize that we’re all students, so they tend to be more lenient, which we appreciate,” Aaron, a College junior and active member of a fraternity, said. Aaron spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by his fraternity.

While he acknowledged the fact that DPS does occasionally shut down fraternity parties, Aaron also said that frats would rather deal with them than potentially less-forgiving officers. “A DPS officer standing on the porch asking you to shut down your party is OK,” he said. “A [Pennsylvania Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement] officer standing on your porch saying, ‘We’re going to have to take you down to the station’ is not.”

OFSL or the Office of Student Conduct often step in to act as an intermediary between fraternities and the general University administration in the case of a violation of either Penn’s student conduct or the organization’s national chapter constraints, according to Aaron. “Generally, they recognize that there are things that shouldn’t be bad enough to affect a student’s future,” he said.

Since 1999, Penn has had a medical amnesty policy in place that states: “No student seeking medical treatment for an alcohol or other drug-related overdose will be subject to University discipline for the sole violation of using or possessing alcohol or drugs. This policy shall extend to another student seeking help for the intoxicated student.”

Perhaps the most widely-known example of the medical amnesty policy is Penn’s student-run Medical Emergency Response Team.

College senior and Chief of MERT Grace Kunas wholeheartedly supports the policy. “I think it’s absolutely essential to have on a college campus. If it weren’t in place, people might not call if there was a true emergency,” she said. “The fact that it’s here means that getting in trouble is never a concern and that the main focus is the safety and health of the student.”

But Penn’s policies go beyond just medical amnesty in the event of an emergency. For those students living in University housing, punishments for underage possession of alcohol or drugs is often kept within the University.

While RAs and GAs are given training prior to the academic year on how to handle underage drinking, each College House’s policies are flexible and lenient.

“If I see drugs or alcohol in one of my resident’s apartments, I have to check everyone’s IDs and file an incident report. If they’re underage, I flush it down the toilet or pour it down the sink,” said Clara, a high-rise RA not authorized to speak about resident advisor protocol. “It’s technically up to me if I want to call the police with drugs and alcohol, but we’re generally told that it’s preferable to handle things in-house,” she said.

“The RAs and GAs in the Quad tend to vary a lot,” Rebecca, who lives in Riepe, said. “I know some people who were pouring shots in their hall lounge, and their RA passed them and gave them a thumbs up,” she said. “Then there are others who are pretty strict — as strict as they can be,” she added.

Matt, a former Quad GA, emphasized that the RAs and GAs are trained to maintain good relationships with their residents. He even noted that it was encouraged for RAs and GAs to, as a policy, refuse to write up their own residents. “It was never explicitly said, but we were always told that it was important to remain on our residents’ good sides,” he said. He called other residential staff members to handle incidents with his own hall.

Even the strictest of RAs, though, have limitations. As a general policy when conducting room checks, RAs are not allowed to open any closets, drawers or cabinets within the room, even if they suspect there might be alcohol or drugs there, Clara said.

Roughly 150 students were referred to OSC for liquor law violations, rather than face arrest, and between 10 and 15 students were referred for drug law violations in 2012 and 2013. Penn’s percentages of arrests and referrals within the university disciplinary system aren’t an outlier among peers, though — other Ivies reported similar statistics.

But despite the statistics, OSC’s website states that “it is not meant to replace or substitute for the criminal justice system or other legal avenues.”

Noelle Melartin, the associate director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives, also said that students who partake in illegal drugs and alcohol consumption inherently face the risk of legal repercussions. “Students know what is legal and not legal,” she said, “and they know that if they choose to engage in high-risk, illegal behavior, they can be held legally accountable.”

Rush also stressed that the University does not actively seek to keep students out of the legal system. Penn has no way to keep students’ records clean of any legal infractions. “If you get in trouble, you go through the court system just like everyone else,” Rush said.

“Our first priority is safety,” she added. “The message here is to have fun but to be responsible.”


Aaron’s feeling of insulation from legal repercussions was echoed by the students interviewed for this article. But does safety also engender a culture of excess?

Keith, a Wharton sophomore who requested anonymity because he does not want to openly admit to drinking and smoking for fear of repercussions, stated that he did not partake in drinking or drug use during high school at all, but after a little more than a year at Penn, he has been hospitalized for intoxication twice and says he smokes pot or drinks alcohol “probably three times a month or so.”

Rebecca, a College freshman who also asked for anonymity, echoed Keith’s sentiment. “I didn’t really drink or experiment with drugs that much in high school, but it’s definitely a bigger part of my life now,” she said. “It’s something I knew would be more accessible here, and I definitely wanted to take part in that.”

“Not to be cynical, but I feel like a lot of it is for the school’s image,” Rebecca said. “They want to seem like they’re doing something about this problem, but everyone knows it happens,” she said.

She also thinks that new policies do not have the students’ best interests at heart, and that they could be potentially dangerous for students. “I think it could create a mentality where students load up on alcohol whenever it is available to them because they don’t know when they’re going to have access to it,” she said, noting that the only times she has ever been physically sick from alcohol consumption were when she was drinking large quantities very rapidly before a party.

Keith has been picked up by MERT twice. “Both times were about the same,” he said. “I don’t know that I would call it a positive experience — because how positive can being hospitalized be? — but I knew I was safe,” he said.

“I don’t know that the fact that MERT exists encouraged me to go overboard those two nights, but I definitely think the fact that the system exists encourages students to drink in general,” he said.


In the last year, however, those numbers have started to change slightly. With an increased campus presence of Liquor Control Enforcement and alcohol monitors, in addition to Penn Police, more students are facing legal repercussions.

In recent months, though, the University has been changing its policies. Last April, the University coordinated with LCE and alcohol monitors to assist the Penn Police with law enforcement during the typically-chaotic Spring Fling weekend. The University again brought in backup for New Student Orientation in August, and again for Halloween/Homecoming weekend.

Rush stressed that the increase in citations and LCE presence on campus was not done explicitly by the University administration, but that the administration and Division of Public Safety have cooperated with the LCE officers.

“LCE comes under the Liquor Control Board, which oversees the entire state of Pennsylvania. They don’t need our permission to come on campus,” she said. A few years ago, the LCB did a study and found an increase in the number of young people drinking on campuses, and decided to take preventative measures. “They reached out to us and asked if we would like to cooperate with them,” she said. She also added that she didn’t think the increased presence of the LCE had led to a noticeable increase in arrests or citations. “They’ve been very measured,” she said. “They could be giving a lot more citations than they are.”

Currently, there are about 20 alcohol monitors working on campus, most of whom do not work at the University full-time, Melartin said. While not technically law enforcement officers — they don’t wear uniforms — Melartin added that they work closely with Greek organizations and student leaders to ensure that parties are “safe and successful.”

This shift is reflected in Penn’s most recent Clery Report. For the 2013 calendar year, 11 arrests were made on campus for liquor law violations, more than double the number from years before.

While the new monitors are correlated with more arrests and noticeably fewer student hospitalizations, many among the student body still wonder if the shift in policy is a good thing.

“Based on the stats of MERT and LCE, it definitely does seem like the presence of the new policies has been a good thing, but at the same time, it’s also made students and especially fraternities a lot more cautious,” Aaron said. “Instead, a lot of parties are moving downtown, which presents a whole new set of challenges. MERT can’t go downtown, and trying to navigate your way back to campus while drunk could be dangerous in and of itself,” he said.

But he brought up a potentially even more dangerous implication as well. “I think for a lot of students — and even more so for frats — the new policies are creating an atmosphere of distrust and skepticism of DPS,” he said. “They’re supposed to be looking out for our best interests, and they’re bringing in all these new organizations that are either shutting down parties or forcing people to go to extreme lengths to host them,” he said.

Rush disagreed. “I really don’t see much of a change in our relationship with the students,” she said.

MERT, typically an integral part of the University’s policies on alcohol and drugs, was left out of the decision to bring in new law enforcement agencies. While Kunas acknowledged that MERT had seen fewer patients during Fling with the implementation of Penn’s new policies, she said the decline could be attributed to other factors as well.

“I don’t know that it’s necessarily an indication of students staying safer as much as it is an indication that there were other factors that played a role,” she said. “Last Fling, it rained during the concert. The year before that, it was cold and no one was really excited about the performer.”

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