September 21, 2017
Two weeks ago, a self-described graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania took to a Reddit page for the school to ask about becoming a so-called "event observer."
The pay's good, futurepenn18 wrote, but the user wanted to know how undergraduate students, or "party goers," felt about the observers.
"It ruins the parties that already are decently in control," one user bluntly replied.
That seems to be the reaction of many on campus, as students say a supposed crackdown on social events has become a gross overreach by Penn.
So, what exactly are "event observers," and why the bad rap? Well, futurepenn18 wasn't wrong — the pay is quite good. According to a job listing for the position posted in August, the part-time gig will net you $35 an hour for a four-and-a-half hour shift on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
Among the duties: Roaming assigned areas to look for "unregistered" events and shutting them down or reporting them, making sure registered events are up to snuff and communicating with police when necessary. Successful applicants will "contribute to campus efforts to reduce the risk of alcohol and drug use at student social events."
If former Penn students who just read that description think it's nothing new, that's because on paper it's not. "Alcohol monitors" have been employed by the school in the past to try and reign in out-of-control parties.
(A post on The Daily Pennsylvania's satirical campus blog Under the Button mocked Penn for changing from "scarily-named 'alcohol monitors' to the friendly, vaguely-named 'event observer,' a change intended to imply something deeper than just semantic differences (probably).")
The differences so far have not been just semantics, however, according to Penn's College Republicans. In a statement on the group's Facebook page Wednesday, they called an alleged, sudden increase in event closures on and off campus as "without precedent and utterly frivolous."
"The administration’s approach, including but not limited to the deployment of event observers, has effectively abrogated the right of students to freely assemble, unequivocally contradicting hallowed American tradition."
Ryan Snyder, a 20-year-old Penn junior and vice president of the College Republicans, told PhillyVoice this year a "broad sweep" of closures has gone beyond the normal events that needed to be shut down in the past. He cited the recent shutdown of a fundraiser at a fraternity in which attendees bought a ticket to buy as much cheese as they wanted.
Snyder stressed that the College Republicans were not speaking out because of any affiliation to any specific frat or sorority, adding that other types of off-campus student groups have voiced similar concerns. This was about principle, he said.
"We find, as Republicans, it's in our ideology to really support student's rights to assemble and live their lives as they wish," Snyder said.
The College Republicans' statement blamed the way recommendations from a university task force were implemented. In September 2016, a creepy email from an off-campus fraternity called Oz sparked outrage on campus. The crass message asked female attendees to an upcoming party to wear tight clothing and not to be a "tease."
The email presented a conundrum for the school. Penn's Intrafraternity Council acknowledged Greek life's role in rape culture on college campuses, but also said Oz wasn't affiliated with the council or Penn, so there was no way to reprimand the group.
So Penn launched a task force to try and address sexual assault and harassment at the school. The task force concluded in April, giving out a number of recommendations, including tighter regulation of off-campus organizations and individuals.
The way Penn has carried out those recommendations has so far missed the mark, according to Snyder, prompting the College Republicans to speak out.
"What has already been and will continue to be illustrated is the fact that the safety of the student body will not be heightened by these new restrictions, nor will students discontinue the targeted activities," the statement read.
Requests for comment sent to the spokesperson for the Office of the Provost and Penn's communications department were not returned Thursday afternoon.
As The Daily Pennsylvanian noted, a petition on Change.org is asking for "The Ability to Have a Social Life at Penn." With just 72 signatures needed to reach a 2,500 goal as of Thursday afternoon, the petition argues that by forcing students to hold events farther and farther away from campus because of restrictions, students are forced to dole out more money, which is unfair to students who aren't as economically advantaged as others.
The petition also claims Penn cracking down on the social scene is unfair considering the Ivy League university's rigorous academics, even boldly implying that it might work against school efforts to curb an alarming number of suicides among students in the past several years.
("Various” students found that implication to be dubious, according to The DP. "It's disturbing to me that so many students signed the petition that implied things were inaccurate about campus mental health," Penn junior Navya Dasari told the student newspaper.)
While the College Republicans came out in full force to the alleged crackdown, Snyder said the goal wasn't to go after Penn, but instead to bring the issue to light.
"It's not to protest or to bash, but to open a dialogue about this."