February this year, a group of five Riepe residents gathered in a dorm room to drink some wine and beer before heading out for the night. They answered a knock on the door and were greeted by an unfamiliar residential advisor who "shoved herself inside so we couldn't close the door," according to one of the residents, who is now a College sophomore.
The RA instructed the students to pour out all of their remaining alcohol and recorded each student's Penn ID number and contact information.
In March, a different group of 10 Riepe residents experienced something similar, where an RA interrupted a social gathering in a student's dorm, forced the students to pour out their alcohol and jotted down their Penn ID numbers.
These two incidents were both first time offenses, but led to inconsistent results. Rules and punishments governing violations across different college houses seem largely inconsistent. Infractions committed in different college houses often lead to different outcomes and there is little clarity as to why.
"Our process in many ways is, I don’t want to say informal, but is very inside to the house system, with the idea being education,” Director of Four-Year Houses and Residential Programs Ryan Keytack said.
For those in the February group, four out of the five students involved received an email two months later requesting that they attend a formal meeting with Riepe College House Dean Marilynne Diggs-Thompson. For those in the March group, all ten students received an email one week after the incident mandating that they meet with Diggs-Thompson.
At the February group's meeting, Diggs-Thompson told the students that they each had to pay a $50 fine and speak to a counselor. All four students paid the fee but never met with the counselor because the school year was almost over, and they heard nothing further.
According to the formerly mentioned College sophomore, at the March group's meeting, Diggs-Thompson did not require that the students pay a fee or speak to a counselor.
The length of time before receiving a disciplinary email, the number of students receiving the email and the ultimate punishment were different in these two parallel situations.
Keytack said that, while the ultimate punishment given to a student often varies by each case, there is still a general process that must be followed.
Keytack, who served as the dean of Rodin College House from 2010 to 2015, said that when an RA or Graduate Associate suspects a student of violating housing standards, the student is called into a meeting with the dean of the respective college house. At this meeting, the dean determines the best course of action.
“If they find them responsible, they will apply an outcome that could be anything from a warning to an educational project,” Keytack said.
But this conversation will not always result in a punishment.
Keytack said as the dean of Rodin, he would occasionally decide that having a conversation with a student was enough to discourage the behavior from happening again. However, in all situations, infractions follow students throughout their time at Penn, and any additional offense will precipitate greater consequences in the future.
If a student gets caught again, additional sanctions could apply, such as referral to the Office of Student Conduct, referral to the Office of Alcohol & Other Drug Program Initiatives and, in extreme cases, residential probation.
"Those conversations are going to look different based on a staff member's particular style," Keytack said.
When it comes to the specifics of this outcome, Keytack acknowledged that it becomes a "bit decentralized” from house to house.
For example, smoking in Riepe is a $50 fine, but smoking in Rodin is a $100 fine. And in Rodin, a second offense would prompt a referral to the Office of Student Conduct and potentially terminate the housing contract.
The individualized rules for each dorm can also cause confusion as to what a punishment is for a given infraction.
While the policies on drinking in on-campus housing are meant to prevent drinking, some students feel like Penn's method for punishing students is an ineffective way to stop inevitable behavior.
“I do think by citing people it makes people try to be more careful [when] they’re doing it, but I think that people are going to drink in the Quad either way," the College sophomore who was caught in February said. "Citing people isn’t going to effectively bring down the number of people drinking.”
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