Policy Changes Put in Place, Students Protest

Photo by Rebecca King

Changes to Ramapo College's policies, which include increased fines and punishments for alcohol violations and student gatherings where alcohol is present and not allowed, have raised the ire of the student body and spawned an online petition to roll back the changes.

“The changes were in response to serious violations of the code of conduct, specifically high-risk drinking behaviors and alcohol violations,” Melissa Van Der Wall, acting dean of students and Title IX coordinator, said in an email. “The sanctions are intended to demonstrate the serious nature of the conduct involved and to emphasize the importance of social behaviors that are healthy, safe and responsible.”

An email highlighting the main policy revisions was sent out to students on move-in day by Director of Student Conduct Kathleen Hallissey. The first change noted was an increased fine of at least $400 that will now be given to any first-offending student that needs to be transported to the hospital due to alcohol consumption. Punishment for such an offense includes attendance at a checkpoint, parental notification, a possible suspension of activities privileges and at least one year of residence probation.

The second change noted in the email was an addition to the alcohol policy, entitled “Sanctions for Hosting a Gathering with Alcohol,” which lays out fines and punishments for just that. Students hosting a “gathering with alcohol” that breaks code will be subject to a $500 fine upon first offense. They will also be required to attend a checkpoint, parental notification will be issued and the student will be suspended of residence privileges with the possibility of suspension of activities privileges. Further, the revised policy will regard all residents of the apartment present at the time of the party as hosts, and they will, therefore, be subject to the designated penalties.

A policy that has always been in place, that on-campus organization or sports team can face interim suspension if caught hosting an event or party that breaks code, has been clarified in the revision. The handbook has defined an organization or team-affiliated event as, “any situation sponsored or endorsed by the organization/team, or any event an observer would associate with the organization/team or any event or situation that occurs on the organization/team’s premises,” with a premise being defined as, “a living unit where one or more members of the organization or team dwell.”

The final revision was one that was made to, “reflect violations that exceed the living area occupancy limits,” according to the email. The list of occupancy limits for each residence hall can be found in the Student Handbook.

Many students, especially those who participate in on-campus clubs, sports teams and Greek life, said they were troubled specifically by the sanctions placed on gatherings hosted by student groups. A group that receives an interim suspension will not be able to hold meetings or practices, or function as a student group. However, according to Van Der Wall, a violation will not always result in a suspension.

“In some cases, if the violation is not severe, an interim suspension may not be issued and the more permanent penalty, under a finding of guilt, will be assessed against the student group following a hearing,” she explained. “Not all violations result in a loss of the group’s status. A group could be interim suspended, found responsible for the violation at the hearing and assigned a sanction. An example of one such sanction could be community restitution hours.”

Van Der Wall also asserted that an entire student group could face punishment if a smaller portion of the group hosts a party that violated the student conduct code.

“Yes, they may be collectively and/or individually responsible. See Section C of the Code of Conduct,” said Van Der Wall. “Normally, an interim suspension is issued, when the conduct meets the grounds for an interim suspension, which temporarily suspends the group’s activities. The charges are adjudicated through the more formal student conduct process where there is an assessment of guilt and more formal sanctions.”

The initial email from Hallissey closed with the promise that the Good Samaritan Policy is still applicable.

“It is important to note that the Good Samaritan Policy is still in place," Van Der Wall said. "We always encourage our students to do the right thing and to assist those in urgent need of medical attention due to intoxication or any other type of incapacitating condition. When the Good Samaritan Policy is activated, all involved parties receive amnesty for the alcohol or drug related infraction. In other words, amnesty applies to the intoxicated individual, the host, and any students in attendance at the gathering.”

However, students have still called into question how the Good Samaritan Policy will remain relevant with the fear of increased fines looming over students’ heads and have pushed back against the revisions. To assert the student body’s widespread disagreement with the policy changes, a change.org petition was started by the Student Government Association. The petition has caught the eye of students and alumni alike and as of Wednesday night had 1,074 supporters.

A “town hall meeting” facilitated by the SGA was held in Friends Hall on Friday to discuss the policy changes, provide students an outlet to discuss their objections to the policy and make clear how the SGA is going about voicing the concerns of the student body.

Lauren Fuhring, president of the SGA, began the meeting by saying that the SGA had not been notified about the handbook revisions. She also informed the audience that she had already spoken with President Mercer about the policy changes. Fuhring noted that in the past a shuttle was available to take students to New Rock Bar & Grill, which has since closed. She argued that, since the shuttle was shut down, students have nowhere else to gather.

"Ramapo is so small that we're forced to have social gatherings in Village apartments because we have nowhere else to go," she said at the meeting.

However, according to Fuhring, President Mercer is open to starting a new shuttle service to a local bar.

After the meeting, the group split: some students stayed in Friends Hall to discuss the handbook revisions while a large portion of those in attendance went out to march through the archway in protest of the policy changes. The marchers were largely made up of athletes, members of Greek life and student organizations. Once the group was outside they made their way up the archway, some holding signs asserting their disagreement with the new policy.

A minority remained in Friends Hall to voice their worries. Questions ranged from whether or not the fines and punishments would be lessened before the end of this semester, to specific examples of students facing consequences for attending parties. The members of the SGA that stayed to facilitate the discussion clarified the policy changes to those in attendance and verbalized the steps the SGA is making to enact change. They explained that, through legislation that is currently in the process of being approved by the SGA senate, they are hoping to reduce the increased fines and clarify gray areas in the policy.

"We're just trying to set up more defined parameters for what each offense will lead to as far as the sanction goes,” said Josh Luster, one of the SGA members at the meeting. “That's really our goal … We're pushing for clarification on top of reduction."

Additional reporting by Donald Irons