Dear Members of the Board of Trustees,
On behalf of The Spectator, we write you regarding the tragedy of December 3rd, the ongoing debate about residential life, and the future of the University. As this term progresses, the loss of Kelsey still lingers. For many students, it was the first time we buried a friend. Kelsey remains in our hearts as we examine what we can do to ensure that such a horror never again falls on our school.
Of course, the ultimate blame lies with the driver. However, as President Ruscio urged us, we should examine to what extent certain aspects of the culture here helped enable the circumstances of the night. Naturally, there will be a greater risk of drinking and driving at an off-campus party. We do not suggest anyone is at fault but the driver, but indeed, a system of off-campus parties would perhaps increase the inherent risk of driving under the influence. Furthermore, parties are held overwhelmingly off campus, and thus the current system is perhaps inherently more prone to such actions.
We ought to first look at how we arrived at such a system. There have always been off-campus parties at W&L. Alums are quick to mention “that one night at Zollman’s.” However, they are also quick to mention that until the early 1990s when the University bought the fraternity houses as part of its Fraternity Renaissance, off-campus parties were infrequent and smaller in size. The majority of fraternity parties were actually held in fraternity houses themselves.
Once the University bought and renovated the houses, it made the prospect of throwing a party in the house exceptionally difficult. And sure enough with their new ownership, the administration started sending security guards into the house every hour or so. Drinking some beers and watching football in the basement on a Monday night became worthy of a sanction from the University. Parties unsurprisingly moved off-campus, and the style of the current social scene was born.
We must note that the risks of the current system do not spring from the fact that juniors live off campus. Before the Fraternity Renaissance, students lived off-campus, but parties were still held in fraternity houses. If the parties were to return to fraternity houses in town, students would be unlikely to consider drinking and driving when they can just sleep at their respective Greek houses if they miss Traveller. If you want to reduce the risk that students might drink and drive, bring the parties back on campus.
Requiring juniors to live on campus will do nothing to improve the safety of our system. Seniors will still live off-campus, and they will still cling to their dynastic houses way out in the country. In fact, when the cost of renting a house falls from the sudden decrease in demand, it won’t be that hard for juniors (or entire fraternities) to chip in and maintain numerous off-campus houses.
The issues of on-campus housing and off-campus parties are almost entirely separated. Were student safety to improve – not counting the “safety” gained from living a cushy little suite – a requirement could be justified. Yet safety is not the focus of the Residential Life Task Force’s report, as it hews mainly to social engineering and other politically correct tomfoolery.
One of our favorite lines of the report explains how a requirement would enable Student Affairs to “facilitate intentional residential life programming aimed at sophomores and promote more developmental independence as students progress from residence halls to on-campus apartments or the Greek houses” (5). We are sorry to say that we do not know what “developmental independence” means, but as one of our editors mentioned to Beau Dudley, it stinks of Swarthmore.
W&L seems to be (hopefully inadvertently) taking a play right from the Federal Government: expand jurisdiction, and then create new “initiatives” and “programs” that will allow us to hire even more unessential deans with unessential responsibilities that are of course inextricably permanent. It seems Student Affairs wants a third-year housing complex as its administrative playground, and they are using the false premise of safety to get their way.
And as far as our supposed lack of community here, our number one ranking on Alumni Factor begs to differ, though that will change if the social engineering proposals of Student Affairs ever come to fruition.
The administration will rejoice with the opportunity to expand its role and play a larger part in students' lives, turning out politically correct drones in their own image. But as they try to, as adults become tired of being watched 24/7 by security guards, of being fed euphemism after euphemism, after hearing about the days when students ran their own lives, the administration will seem even more overbearing. The temptation to ditch the Kumbaya and hit up a Monday night party in the country will rule.
We are not most concerned with the construction or requirement of Third-Year Housing. We are concerned with the eradication of student autonomy for the sake of a monumental expansion of Student Affairs. That is not what W&L, as far as we see it, is about. We understand the University is under a lot of pressure and a grandiose housing complex and a requirement to follow will indubitably look like a big, serious solution. But it will do only that, look like a solution. It is a very, very expensive PR move, both in terms of funds (which would serve the school so much better were they sent to financial aid or faculty salaries) and in W&L values, most specifically the utterly essential and quickly vanishing value of student autonomy.
The Editorial Staff of The Spectator
Christian von Hassell