By 8:12 p.m., concerned students were streaming through the door of the arena in the Michael P. O’Brien Athletic and Recreation Center (MPOARC). Despite the rain and the apparent doubts on the part of administration, a strong turnout rallied for the Student Government Association (SGA) Student Speakout regarding policy enforcement changes on Sept. 11.
According to a Facebook page created for the event, “the St. Mary’s we know is disappearing and it’s up to us to make this right and leave a legacy for students to come”.
The wall of bleachers facing the speaker floor, marked with a long table of SGA representatives, Dean of Students Leonard Brown, Executive Director of Student Life Derek Young, and Director of Public Safety Tressa Setlak, was filled with students and alumni alike. President Tuajuanda Jordan, PhD, was also in the arena, though she left 30 minutes into the session, after hearing 3 of the 5 planned speakers’ testimonials. She did not return during the open floor portion of the meeting.
The first speakers on the docket were Samantha Berenschot-Bucciero, ‘19, and Daniel Belson, ‘19, who spoke about the updated music speaker policy.
The newly drafted music speaker policy, which allows for speakers to play music outdoors between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, is in practice immediately— though the final decision on the policy will be made at the Board of Trustees meeting in October. The policy includes community-based standards, wherein students will still need to respect guidelines set by Resident Assistants (RA) and Public Safety.
Belson noted that outward facing speakers should not become an open invitation into a student residence.
Berenschot-Bucciero noted that the Social Host Party policy fines are only decided by conduct board officials and would only be imposed on students found responsible for hosting a party— not the attendees.
A student in the crowd asked Belson and Berenschot-Bucciero, both RAs what kind of things would make a party deemed “out of control,” gathering a large response from the crowd. Berenschot-Bucciero offered that some warning signs would be open containers, underage drinking, health hazards such as students vomiting or clearly open invitation (students flowing in and out of doors) or fire code violations (too many people in a building).
She also said, of the major greens parties (Hallowgreens, Mardigreens and NudiGreens) “nothing should change— all policies should stay the same.” Berenschot-Bucciero also clarified the Social Host Policy, saying that the $100 fine is per host, not per violation.
The first person to take the floor during the open ended part of the speakout was alumnus Annarose Kennedy, ‘18, who spoke of her St. Mary’s Project (SMP) on student activism at SMCM, saying that “there is clearly a gap in productive communication that has existed long before the enforcement of these harsh policies. If there is to be any collaboration that results in positive change, the members of this community need to be able to trust each other and openly express their opinions and perspectives with the expectation that their ideas will be heard.” She included a quote from an anonymous student from her SMP research who stated that “I can’t recall the last time I had an administrator listen to one of my concerns and do something about it. When you come to them you expect help and support and guidance, but most of the time I feel like we either don’t get that or we get a fake version of that where nothing comes of it.”
Jake Mahnke, ‘19, spoke of his concerns with the statistical evidence which inspired the new rules, before moving to his concerns with the open-invitation policy. He brought up concerns that students who wish to find social gatherings may go off campus, where there is a larger likelihood of drunk driving, saying that at St. Mary’s, “we all look out for each other to make sure everyone is safe and we have a good time, and that nothing bad will happen to us.” He brought up the St. Mary’s Way, noting that the fostering of relationships on campus, and the feeling of trust, could be stunted by the new policies. Mahnke also raised the question, “How can administration not trust the students that they admit?”, to which the crowd roared in response. Brown, Young, and Setlak sat quietly by as students cheered and applauded.
Rachel Yates,‘19, opened her remarks by noting that “there is something wrong going on with the administration at this school right now.” She pointed out that many events on campus- the River Concert series and athletic games- also create noise, sometimes distracting students in nearby academic buildings who may still be in class. Instead, the policy targets students in their offtime.
Yates then brought up a hypothetical situation which many students find themselves in now, asking the crowd to consider how they may feel if they were a new student who was scared to meet new people, who was not aware of the policy when they committed to this school, that they may become isolated and never find a place in the community. Yates said “if I was this student, I would transfer to a more socially welcoming campus,” a statement that resonated with many students in the audience.
Alissa Fisher,‘19, spoke about concerns regarding Public Safety officers and their interests, stating that every student has an opinion on Public Safety. This new policy would strain student relationships with Public Safety. Fisher commented on the shortage of Public Safety Officers before noting that two officers came to the speakout to show their support for students on their days off.
The final priority speaker, Jake Corfman, ‘19, gave a heartfelt testimonial on the “ever-so-dwindling community aspect of St. Mary’s… the main reason I fell in love with this school my first year and decided to say,” before the floor was opened to students for further comment.
Students voiced many concerns over the course of the open mic, including that “when binge drinking happens, when parties happen, it’s on the weekend- when the Wellness Center is not open and people feel they don’t have the resources.”
Another common concern among students was implications for Title IX— one student stated that limiting students from parties and social gatherings would also limit their access to resources, while another voiced her opinion that if the school truly seeks to improve campus life, it should remove students against whom multiple Title IX complaints have been filed. A third student, Lynn Stevens, ‘19, read a letter from a Rebecca Malaga, ‘20, currently studying abroad in France, who fears that the new policy won’t stop drinking, it will stop outdoor parties, which would put students at higher risk of being sexually assaulted.
Scott Sutton,‘19, a two year employee of Admissions brought up a concern that new policy may affect the admissions crisis and student retention rates.
Maddy Gibson, ‘20, shared a brief but powerful anecdote, saying through tears that “the first time that I ever felt like a part of this school was dancing to ‘Mr. Brightside’ on the greens, and I was completely sober.”
Sydni Thacker, ‘19, read a letter from alumni of the Women’s Lacrosse team, who said that the flyer regarding the new policy patronizes current students and may scare off prospective students who are looking for an open, inclusive campus.
Perry Conner, ‘19, attended Virginia Commonwealth University his freshman year, and said strict policy there made binge drinking more appealing, suggesting that an alcohol education program may be more beneficial to students in need of help.
Zachary Smith, ‘20, a student who transferred to St. Mary’s last semester, said “I feel really bad for the next set of transfers coming in that will miss out on this sense of community that we’re about to lose.”
Keith Packard, ‘20, then took the microphone to express that in light of new policy, many students feel as though the College is more concerned with its image for marketing purposes than the well-being of their students. He said that alumni may speak ill of SMCM and “quite frankly, if this is the way things are going to continue, this may be deserved”.
The final student speaker of the night was Alina Martin, ‘19, who spoke of alcohol use on campus, saying “I was never offered alcohol on the greens as a freshman. We never got drunk on the greens, we got drunk in the dorm rooms,” to which many students in the audience applauded.
SGA President Andrew Messick, ‘19, closed the meeting after reading a letter from Cameron Keyani,‘16, an old housemate of his, who stated that he would not be making any financial contributions to the school until the policy is changed.