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Credit: Julio Sosa

When the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community first published its report last spring, a hefty portion of its recommendations were designed to identify and regulate off-campus groups. 

"The particular groups we’re trying to work with to bring back into the fold are the ones where we have no oversight whatsoever," Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said in April.  

One major recommendation was to create a new category for off-campus organizations called “Identified Off-Campus Groups," though there were also other more general 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." 

But while the discussion around the task force last semester seemed to center heavily around off-campus groups, the administration's implementation of the task force recommendations this semester has affected nearly all on-campus organizations. 

On-campus Greek organizations and even non-Greek groups have seen their social events shut down, prompting confusion among students regarding which groups the administration is actually looking to target. 

In an email dated Aug. 17, Rush and the Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum wrote that "recognized and registered student groups, such as fraternities, student government, and performing arts clubs, have long been required to register social events with the Office of Alcohol and other Drug Program Initiatives." 

But students said that in past years, the administration did not enforce this for on-campus groups nearly as stringently as they are beginning to this semester. They have also said that the administration has not clearly laid out which kind of social events are subject to these regulations and which are not. 

Wharton and Engineering senior Matt Caltabiano, who is a member of the on-campus fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon, said parties hosted at their off-campus location have been shut down more frequently compared to last year.

"We’ve registered parties [at our on-campus location] before, so we knew how to do that, and we’ve been familiar with that process and the cost associated with it,” Caltabiano said. “What we are not familiar with is registering parties not necessarily hosted by the fraternity, but some members of the fraternity at an off-campus location.” 

Although the fraternity has been complying with all the on-campus party registration rules so far, Caltabiano said it was unclear as to what events were considered a “party” by the administration and the Penn Police Department. 

“If we want to pregame with some of the brothers before going out to a bar, do we need to register that? I’ve heard of instances where events like that were shut down,” he said. 

And Greek organizations are not the only groups who have been affected.

On Sept. 24, the Nominations and Elections Committee held a meeting at College sophomore and NEC member Lea Makhloufi’s off-campus house. Makhloufi described the gathering as an “ice cream social” and said that there was no alcohol involved.  

About 50 people came over to her house around 8 p.m., and as people were starting to leave about 30 minutes later, a Penn Police car pulled up outside of her house. 

“[The police] told us they received a noise complaint,” Makhloufi said. “They asked me what we were doing and I said just hanging out with friends … I told them to leave because I didn’t feel like they had legal grounds to do anything.” 

According to Rush, a "party" is not defined by the number of people, but the capacity of the venue and the behavior of those in it. 

“Let’s say you and your friends live in a house and we have some music on, we’re having fun with pizza, some friends pop in, and more and more come in, and now we have 50 or 100 kids … depending on the size of the house and behaviors of the people in it, [the Penn Police] might tell you to shut it down,” she said. 

Other student leaders said that in their experience, the task force policies seemed geared towards regulating all social activity on campus, instead of just those organized by off-campus groups. 

“From my understanding, the policies that have come out of the task force are meant for all social events, whether for Greek life, clubs, or off-campus social groups, and have been affecting both on-campus and off-campus groups,” Panhellenic Council President and College senior Caroline Ohlson said in an emailed statement. 

College senior and Interfraternity Council President Bradley Freeman agreed.

“From the information that has been relayed to me, I think the task force was never targeted toward one particular group, but towards the entire campus community,” he said.

But despite what many students have perceived as an increase in the patrolling of parties, Rush said the number of houses reported as disorderly during the beginning of the school year has remained almost the same from 2015 to 2017. 

Two years ago, 81 houses were reported as disorderly in the first four weeks of the fall semester starting with New Student Orientation weekend. In 2016, this number was 76, and in 2017, the figure was 83. 

There has also been some confusion as to who is responsible for the expansion of event regulations currently being implemented. The task force, which was staffed with students, administrators and faculty, only proposed a list of recommendations. The implementation of these recommendations, which has been carried out by administrators, may differ from the task force's initial proposals. 

In an emailed statement, College senior and Undergraduate Assembly President Michelle Xu, who was on the task force wrote, “the task force is over and has been over since last semester, so they are not 'regulating' any groups right now."

"The task force's goal was to set forth recommendations, so that means they did not set policies," she explained.