Opinion

Caught in a Safety Net: Understanding the Administration’s Relationship with Social Events

ART BY UMA EDULBEHRAM

Spilling into the street, I watched a swarm of costumed party-goers leave Arts Haus after Tufts University police shut down their unregistered Halloween event on October 28 less than half an hour in. Several cancellations over Halloweekend, including parties held by Tufts Pole Dance Collective and the fraternity ATO of Massachusetts, illustrated the hyper-vigilance that contributes to Tufts’ infamously dead social scene. While the administration has the right and responsibility to intervene in student events to promote safety and prevent violations of campus conduct, its overall treatment of these events has created a poor reputation for the social scene, which often pushes students into comparatively more dangerous situations.

The school’s heavy hand in enforcing student safety is necessary to restructure campus culture—specifically, Tufts’ problematic history with Greek life. However, there is a point after which concern for safety becomes blatant disdain for students who desire to carry out social events. These preventative measures not only impede community-building, but more importantly lead students to parties off campus, placing them into unfamiliar situations without Tufts’ established resources. 

Since 2016, Tufts’ Greek life has drastically decreased, a movement largely ignited by Ben Kesslen’s Tufts Observer article “Abolish Fraternities.” The piece detailed a disturbing hazing experience involving sexual assault, misogyny, and queerphobia, in addition to referencing separate instances of racism, sexual and gendered violence, and physical violence within a Tufts fraternity. The necessity of reform was undeniable, with consensus among community members.

Following this, the university received a large number of official complaints against Greek organizations that triggered investigations into eight of them, leading the school to impose various suspension, disciplinary, and social probation protocols, the latest of which will lift in 2027. Additionally, the implementation and promotion of Green Dot training and postponement of students’ ability to rush from their freshman spring to sophomore fall reflected a strong commitment by the university to change Tufts’ social atmosphere. 

Discussions renewed in 2020 after the Abolish Greek Life at Tufts’ Instagram account inspired further restructuring of Greek life. A subsequent mass exodus from traditional Greek organizations produced the local sororities Thalia and The Ivy from their former recognitions as Chi Omega and Alpha Phi.

Administrative and community-based reconceptualizing of Greek life suggests both a desire to improve Tufts’ social environment through conscious reform and an anxiety about reopening and promoting it. Nonetheless, Tufts has doubled down on its restrictiveness even as the campus’ atmosphere changes.

Administrative crackdowns on student organization events often appear to be the result of this anxiety. Cyberjam, an event scheduled for March 31 by the student organization Applejam, was canceled the day of because Applejam submitted their event registration form one day past the required two-week window. Similarly, last year the administration canceled a registered ATO Halloween party the day of due to ATO’s failure to complete a required training.

With on-campus parties routinely canceled by administration or cut short by TUPD, trekking to other schools or into Boston for parties is common. This means Tufts students often navigate the city inebriated, entering unfamiliar spaces far from campus without access to student support structures available there, including Tufts Emergency Medical Services (which provides a medical amnesty protocol), Green-Dot-trained students, and sober monitors. The MBTA’s 1 a.m. closures and rideshare pricing create economic, logistical, and physical difficulties for students coming back to campus.

A student shared with me an incident during her sophomore year while attending a formal in Boston hosted by a Tufts organization, during which she became over-intoxicated and found herself stranded after a miscommunication with the group she had arrived with. The student cited a lack of available on-campus parties as the primary reason she went, driven off-campus by a desire to meet other students in an informal social setting. 

“[Going off-campus is] when you get unsafe,” the student said. “I’ve never had an experience like that at a Tufts party. I’ve seen people blacked out, I’ve walked them home. Strangers, I’ve had other people I know come drive and pick them up, and it’s very much a community sense. No one wants anyone to be unsafe or harmed in any way.” 

While on-campus parties are comparatively safer, administrative perspectives on social events seem contradictory. During my time at Tufts, I’ve witnessed friction between multiple student organizations and a disapproving administration. Specifically regarding ATO, this has resulted in sanctions, including a premature shut-down for noise. Placed on probation since the end of October, ATO cannot host registered parties. Reflecting on this, the strictness of the school has created a lack of clarity for ATO on its status of hosting parties and a lack of transparency that has resulted in distrust from the student body. 

While registered parties include required precautions such as sober monitors and Green Dot-trained students, unregistered off-campus events and smaller parties like those in dorms and suites lack such safety nets. Limited on-campus venues also create overcrowding problems, as well as safety concerns during the colder months with students wandering campus after party closures. 

Additionally, student resources that don’t involve law enforcement are particularly lacking on the weekends, most pressingly Tufts University Health Services. While students often seek TEMS as a source of professional medical assistance when necessary, TEMS still works with TUPD, which raises additional safety concerns. This affiliation can lead students to hesitate to report overly intoxicated students, due to fear of stigma and economic concern associated with emergency care. 

Meanwhile, administrative response to prohibited substance violations resembles penalization more than education, including substance use screenings, assessments, treatments, and educational requirements: a string of formalities to complete and never think about again.

On February 16, I received notification that I violated the Student Code of Conduct by possessing alcohol as an underage resident, discovered during winter closing inspections. I underwent the frustrating process, consisting of mandatory meetings that felt more procedural than helpful. An administrator I met with recognized the training’s aggravating focus on minutiae and suggested I refocus my mandatory reflection essay on my hobbies and classes rather than just the policy violation, acknowledging the frivolousness of writing 500 words about an empty beer can I forgot to clean off my desk.

Other students have voiced similar frustrations about Tufts’ alcohol training, with instances of inaccurate charges and disproportionate lengths of cases. It’s frustrating to hear my peers imply unequal administrative treatment, especially when they feel that how they are treated depends on their identity.  

The over-policing of ATO’s October 28 event might also suggest racial bias in TUPD’s handling of events on campus. I briefly attended the party, externally hosted by Kappa Alpha Psi—a historically Black fraternity—at which the attendees were predominantly Black. TUPD cited a noise complaint, shutting down the event and entering the privately-owned property, the latter constituting an illegal action. This directly contrasts TUPD’s treatment of an event at Delta Tau Delta that same night despite both houses having large crowds outside, with officers at DTD merely directing where students stood. Kappa Alpha Psi’s event placed the fraternity on probation, begging the question of why this specific event warranted disciplinary action. 

Establishing weekend health services that don’t involve law enforcement would help provide a confidential outlet for students without the stress of mandated reporting. The University Chaplaincy and CARE (Center for Awareness, Resources, and Education) office do not offer their non-mandated reporter resources in the nighttime. The lack of alternatives may deter students from reaching out in times of need.

Despite providing a plethora of sexual assault resources, Tufts fails to extend them to students after-hours, lacking the majority of this established support network except TUPD. Bizarrely, this reduces accessibility to sexual assault forensic exams and confidential reporting systems during the time of week these incidents happen most frequently

Providing students with comfortable avenues to engage in prevention and safety practices is not only necessary, but would also demonstrate a more meaningful commitment from the administration to protecting student safety. This commitment could also be demonstrated by de-escalating police presence on campus—without taking extreme circumstances into account, TUPD’s strong nighttime presence provides little benefit to student safety beyond the role of TEMS.

There is no question about the positive impact of many of the administrative measures taken so far. However, we must acknowledge that these changes have produced unforeseen consequences for student safety and implement reforms that better balance student needs and safety concerns.