Denison University’s 178th Commencement took place on Saturday, May 18. Watch the ceremony in its entirety including commencement keynote speaker Jennifer Garner ’94.
This fall, evidence of structural stress prompted us to put a hold on registration of large parties in campus apartments while we looked into building safety. Structural engineers confirm that the Sunset and Brownstone apartment buildings are safe for occupancy, but also that these residential buildings cannot withstand the impact of social events that far exceed design and structural capacities.
We are grateful to hosts who have committed to keeping their party guest counts down while we’ve worked on this. We’re appreciative that everyone has taken this seriously, and that student leaders have truly led in this moment.
As we move forward, we hope to work alongside students to create solutions to the challenges we face as a result of these circumstances. Student opinion on matters related to social life on campus are wide-ranging. We are committed to bringing students together to imagine and co-create new approaches to social spaces and the policies that will govern them.
As we have talked with a lot of students over the last two weeks, it’s been clear that many students see this as a chance to be part of designing the next era of Denison social life, and we hope that this is both true and exciting.
The message that follows is detailed. Here are the key points covered:
We are entering a period of experimentation that will likely last the rest of this year. That said, we hope to have new registration policies and approaches for large social spaces ready to pilot by Thanksgiving Break, so that we can use the remainder of this academic year to test, refine and adjust with student input.
There is no question that a lot of fun has been had in the apartments over the years. That degree of fun has taken a physical toll on the buildings that is no longer sustainable. Quite aside from this, however, we have also heard these sentiments from students:
Hosts have complained about their apartments being trashed by party-goers who forget that the apartments are also the hosts’ homes. Hosts bear the financial cost of the damages inflicted on their spaces by their guests.
The current party scene is experienced by many as undermining a sense of community as well as personal safety. Students have complained about how hot, crowded, and out-of-control Sunnies parties can sometimes feel.
We have a wide range of students on campus who desire greater variety in social life. Both the spaces on campus and the ways they are used should enable students to host a wide array of social events. Many students—whether they love or hate Sunnies parties—express readiness to explore new ways of socializing at Denison.
We tried to make some changes a few years ago that have not worked effectively. Five years ago, in response to some of the same concerns we hear today, we tried to create appealing spaces for large parties. We opened more spaces for large events, permitted kegs in these spaces, and covered the cost of Peer Safety Monitors to help hosts manage the larger numbers of party-goers. We subsequently refinished Shep Lounge and expanded Lamson Lodge for parties.
While the social spaces are used for student parties—77 last year, for example—this is a relatively small percentage of the total; most nights, the spaces sit unused. This has been true for a variety of reasons, most having to do with perceptions of how rules and laws are enforced by university staff and the Peer Safety Monitors in these spaces.
It’s for this reason that we say: We need students to help shape this process and get the solutions right. We are writing to ask for your help in finding the approaches that will support the use of these spaces for large events. Changes in spaces and systems
Current party registration requirements have not worked for many hosts of large parties in the social spaces. Without the Sunnies as a space for larger parties, competition for other venues will grow. So, we have to increase the number of spaces and we need to re-work the policies.
Regarding spaces: We are adding new, large social spaces to supplement those currently available:
Regarding policy: In simplest terms, we need systems that work for students who host and attend parties. We also need to ensure access to spaces and opportunities across the range of social experiences students enjoy. Finally, we need to observe student expectations for maintaining safe environments. Student leaders have been clear on these points.
A plan for moving forward
For new approaches to work, they must be widely endorsed by students rather than created by the administration alone. Below are questions that have been raised by students in early meetings. These are questions on which student input is especially vital and are the first ones we’ll work on:
Students must lead the generation of solutions on these questions, in ways that enable all perspectives to be heard. Student opinion on these matters is not uniform, so we need many voices. We believe that workable solutions will emerge from within and across the student body.
On November 4, 5 and 6, the Red Frame Lab will host a series of design sessions to bring students together to grapple with these questions. Decisions will be made on the basis of ideas produced during these meetings. We encourage all interested members of the student body to join these conversations by signing up before midnight on Tuesday night, Oct. 30.
In the meantime, current policies on registration remain in place for apartments and suites. We will continue using a guest limit of 30-33 students at any given time per space with one party per floor. Events for more than 33 people must be registered for larger spaces. We hope to have new registration policies and approaches for large social spaces ready to pilot by Thanksgiving Break. We can then use the remainder of this year to test, refine and adjust our policies and practices with student input.
Change creates uncertainty but it is also full of positive possibility. We again thank student hosts for working to maintain safe environments as we have moved through these issues. We hope all students will consider participating in the upcoming conversations. It is a chance to help shape social life in ways that work for students. We’re grateful, in advance, for your good thinking.
Erik Farley, Dean of Student Leadership and Community Engagement
Steve Gauger, Director of Risk Management and Environmental Health & Safety
Laurel Kennedy, Vice President for Student Development