Today, the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community released a list of recommendations intended to “foster a campus climate and culture that is free of sexual harassment and sexual violence, alcohol and other substance abuse, and other forms of behavior that may violate Penn’s Code of Student Conduct.”
The Daily Pennsylvanian is pleased that the task force sought and used student input, and we believe the recommendations are mostly practical and well-considered. There are, however, serious questions that will need to be answered, and we harbor some doubt as to whether and to what degree the recommendations will actually be used and implemented.
Promisingly, student input offered during the deliberation process appears to have been seriously considered and ultimately heeded. As one of the groups that collaborated with the task force, we are pleased to see that many of the questions answered or pieces of advice given at our Feb. 23 town hall event appear in this document. The inclusion of these conversations, which included the suggested appointment of a chief diversity officer and the importance of addressing cultural issues in Greek and non-Greek organizations alike, legitimizes the recommendations as well-sourced and well-informed.
Going a step further than the formulation of the document, we agree with many of the recommendations’ sentiments.
We are encouraged to see that the task force’s most significant recommendation with regard to off-campus organizations — the creation of an “Identified Off-Campus Group” status — appears to be grounded in voluntary action on the part of those groups, rather than the coercive approach adopted by a similar task force at Harvard. The recommendation as currently written, however, does not appear to provide any incentive for opting into the scheme. Assuming participation is ultimately voluntary, we strongly suggest that some benefit to gaining “Identified” status be made a part of any final policy.
The goal of “[updating] alcohol and anti-hazing policies to clarify student responsibility and accountability, regardless of group affiliation or the location of specific activity” also makes sense. Though hazing and alcohol violations receive the most attention within the context of Greek life, accountability for violations of Penn’s Code of Student Conduct should extend even-handedly to all individuals and groups. Penn’s existing conduct policies should be modified to better enable their equitable and thorough application and enforcement.
Indeed, the sentiments of the more vaguely defined ideas — the recommendations regarding “an educational campaign to reinforce community standards” and “existing student conflict resolution and peer mediation programs” — speak to positive intent. If culture change is going to happen, it must be a product of effort by administrators, faculty and students alike. These recommendations appropriately place a substantial portion of responsibility with students, and we call on students to rise to the challenge.
As well-constructed as the recommendations are, however, we retain a healthy degree of both skepticism regarding their implementation and concern about the absence or ambiguity of some information.
There are questions regarding the language of the report that our community needs answered. What is the extent to which the University plans to collaborate with off-campus landlords? How can Penn enforce its requirements for off-campus organizations without overly regulating students’ private, personal choices? How is the sophomore experience any different than the current programming available to on-campus sophomores?
In addition to these lingering questions, the task force’s recommendations fail to include any provisions related to directly addressing campus sexual assault and sexual harassment. Given that Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price announced the task force’s formation in November by acknowledging “there is always more work to be done” to prevent sexual violence, we are disappointed to not see any tangible recommendations made in this area.
Moreover, Penn’s history with implementing task force recommendations further tempers our optimism. In February 2015, the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare released an eight-page report detailing recommendations aimed at better educating the Penn community about mental health and better treating those who needed help. Though the recommendations were welcomed enthusiastically by students, some still haven’t reached fruition.
So while past events leave us skeptical, the proactive and collaborative approach taken by this task force makes us hopeful that the University — administration, faculty and students, alike — will follow through on these recommendations in a fair and just way. As a journalistic institution, we intend to hold the Penn community accountable to carrying out these recommendations and establishing a better campus environment. As a student group itself, the DP looks forward to working toward a better culture for our staff and for our readers.