A University task force recommended that Penn register off-campus groups, expand education on anti-hazing efforts and update the alcohol and other drug policies, in a report issued Wednesday afternoon.
Off-campus organizations, which often function like underground fraternities and sororities, might also need to register their events in off-campus locations and comply with University anti-hazing regulations. The task force’s eight general recommendations were announced by Provost Vincent Price, who said that he and Penn President Amy Gutmann had already accepted them and will work to implement them immediately.
Penn created the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community earlier this year, largely in response to an incident last fall when an off-campus organization known as OZ sent sexually suggestive emails to freshmen women. The administrators, faculty, staff and students on the committee spent the last three months deliberating how to combat sexual harassment and violence, substance abuse and other student conduct code violations.
The task force also met with a series of student groups, including affiliated fraternities and sororities and The Daily Pennsylvanian, to brainstorm solutions.
One major recommendation involves the creation of a new category for off-campus organizations — which were a specific focus of the task force — called “Identified Off-Campus Groups.”
According to the recommendations, groups designated as “Identified Off-Campus Groups” will have to provide Penn with members lists, leader contacts and addresses.
They will be held to the same behavioral standards as on-campus groups — including being subject to alcohol and hazing policies. And they will be eligible for the same kinds of educational programming that on-campus groups like Greek organizations require of their members.
It is unclear whether this is a voluntary designation for groups to assume or if the University will proactively identity them. When asked this question, the Division of Public Safety wrote in a statement that, "currently, a number of groups have been identified. Any potential future identification process will be worked out in the implementation phase."
College junior Christopher D'Urso, one of the students on the task force, said the task force had two meetings with leaders of Penn's unrecognized groups while developing their recommendations.
The group leaders, he said, wanted to make sure their members had access to resources — like educational programming — that other students receive in their capacities as members of recognized campus groups.
"I really do think that at the end of the day, they want to have a better relationship with the university," D'Urso said. "Even though they're in an off-campus organization, they're still Penn students, and they want to feel like they have access to all the rights that being a Penn student entails."
The unrecognized groups that were involved in working with the task force will now be designated as Identified Off-Campus Groups, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. Administrators will reach out to any groups that did not meet with the task force.
"We’ll probably find that there are others, and we’ll deal with that as we scope out the next step," Rush said.
According to the recommendations, Penn will also consider creating a process by which Identified Off-Campus Groups must register to host events in off-campus locations.
At the University Council meeting on Wednesday, Rush responded to student questions on recommendations for the task force, but did not provide specific details on how they would be implemented. Rush said that the University is still working towards figuring out how they will be executed, but that the new requirements will hopefully be in place by the fall semester.
“These are recommendations that now will be worked on for all the procedures that will be put in place,” Rush said in an interview Thursday. “We will be doing this collaboratively with student groups, VPUL.”
Although the task force recommended clarifying alcohol and hazing policies for all students, Rush said the task force's focus was on unrecognized groups, which were previously harder to punish because they could not be sanctioned in the same way that recognized Greek organizations, for example, could.
"The particular groups we’re trying to work with to bring back into the fold are the ones where we have no oversight whatsoever," she said. "It is not a get out of jail card to say we’re off campus, we're unrecognized, you can’t do anything to us,"
Though one of the task force's original charges was to reduce sexual violence and sexual harassment, the report does not specifically reference those agenda items. But Rush said addressing alcohol and hazing issues will lead to an environment where sexual misconduct is less likely.
"We believe that addressing the code of conduct — whether it’s for sexual violence, sexual harassment, alcohol abuse or hazing, it’s really all one big problem," Rush said. "If we handle those things, we believe that we will address the disrespectful harassment of women, minorities, people who are different than the groups — because the groups are going to be following the same rules and regulations as any student."
Though the new designation for off-campus organizations marks a shift in Penn’s policy towards tighter surveillance of off-campus groups, the recommendations do not take the extremely harsh stance that some campuses, like Harvard, have taken towards unofficial student groups.
Last May, Harvard announced that it would bar members of single-gender organizations — including its controversial final clubs — from holding leadership positions in campus-sponsored groups or getting the dean’s endorsement for scholarships.
D'Urso said Penn was not interested in developing policies as stringent as Harvard's.
"They [members of Penn unrecognized groups] don’t want to feel like, since they're in these off-campus groups, that they would be ostracized in any way from the University," he said. "When you have policies like that [Harvard's policies], you’re essentially telling students not to join those groups."
Penn’s task force was chaired by Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush and Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein. It also included three faculty members, three administrative staff members and three students.
In a statement, Penn President Amy Gutmann praised the task force's work.
"This is an important step in our continuing efforts to make Penn’s campus ever safer, more inclusive, and better for everyone who calls this University home," the statement read. "I’m grateful to all who served on the Task Force and to all who shared their experiences and ideas.”
Aside from the new designation for off-campus organizations, the task force made a number of other recommendations, including:
- Update Penn’s alcohol and anti-hazing policies to ensure students know they are being held accountable for their actions, regardless of location or group affiliation
- Work with student leaders to develop an educational campaign to “reinforce community standards and expectations of behavioral responsibility.”
- Explore the creation of a “sophomore experience program” to encourage freshman and sophomores to take advantage of on-campus resources and prepare them for potentially living off campus as upperclassmen
- Work more closely with landlords so that student tenants and their parents are aware of rules and consequences for lease violations
- Appoint a chief diversity officer so that there is a single point person for bias and diversity incidents
- Promote current peer mediation and conflict resolution platforms so that disagreements among students do not escalate to policy violations
This article was last updated on April 20 at 1:00 p.m. Check back for updates.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.