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Sid Rich private parties banned for semester in response to unauthorized Lads in Plaid party

By Drew Keller     3/23/16 4:03pm

Students at Sid Richardson College will not be allowed to hold private parties for the rest of the semester as a consequence of the unregistered Lads in Plaid party at Sid on Jan. 22, according to the Sid college government. Sid student leaders and university administration characterized the new college policy as a joint agreement resulting from discussion rather than as purely administrative sanctions.

Along with the implementation of the new policy, four individual students were fined and one was further sanctioned through Student Judicial Programs for the organization of Lads in Plaid, according to Sid President Bissy Michael. The party led to debate across campus and at Sid about the safety of large “public” private events after Rice University Police Department sent out crime alerts notifying the community that a student was sexually assaulted on the dance floor at the party.

Sid is still able to hold registered public events, such as a party on the morning of Beer Bike and the college’s upcoming public party.

“For a violation like Lads in Plaid, usually SJP would crack down with sanctions and fairly harsh punishments, but this time we were given the option to work with the administration and talk to people within Sid to figure out how we could have a less harsh punishment and police ourselves,” Griffin Palmer, Sid’s chief justice, said.

Palmer, a sophomore, took office following the resignation of the previous chief justice after Lads in Plaid. At the time, Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said student government needed to better enforce the alcohol policy and party rules. According to Palmer, the enforcement of the new policies by the Sid college government and its inclusion in the decision process marks an effort to do just that.

“This can show that we’re the first response,” Palmer said. “If something happens, the students are the ones that are gonna handle it, rather than having some higher power come in to handle it.”

Palmer said he and associate justices would walk the public spaces of the college building, including floor lobbies, on Friday and Saturday nights to enforce the policy. According to Palmer, Sid students who violate the new policy will face rustication. Students from other colleges who attend parties at Sid will be asked to leave and could be punished by their college masters and court, Palmer said. Chief justices across campus sent notices to students of Sid’s policy changes to their residential colleges.

A culture shift

Michael, a junior, said she hoped the new policy would lead to safer practices at Sid next year and beyond.

“The biggest culture shift is that it creates the opportunity for people to realize that there can be consequences for breaking rules,” Michael said. “This is a reminder that the alcohol policy does apply.”

Though there will be no ban on private parties  next year, Michael said the goal was more careful controls on the planning and scale of such parties.

“Once the official sanctions are over we’ll be able to go back to having privates, but in a more reasonable way,” Michael said.

According to Michael, any Sid student could still theoretically register a public event this semester, but such a process is long and requires careful planning.

“You’d have to do the same to register beer pong in the lobbies as you would to register Sid 80s,” Michael said.

Michael and Palmer said they received mixed responses from the Sid community regarding the new policy. Many students regarded the ban on privates as a less severe response than expected, especially since the semester is close to finished, they said. Some students had expressed fears of sanctions, such as Sid’s entire budget being cut.

Punishment versus policy

Michael said the terminology regarding the new policy had changed: The administration and Sid master had originally been in contact with the college government regarding sanctions, but following discussions the student-enforced private party ban was agreed upon.

“The sanctions are supposed to encourage people to take responsibility for their own actions,” Michael said.

According to Michael, other proposed options were considered, including a ban on all public events, such as public parties, college nights and pub nights, for the next two years. 

Michael and Palmer rejected such a policy as unfair to incoming freshmen and less likely to create lasting changes.

“[Associate Dean of Undergraduates Don] Ostdiek thought [the public event option] would be legitimately viewed as a punishment, so it would be something you’d endure and then things would go back to exactly the way they were,” Palmer said. “He thought this might be a situation where we could actually change the way these [events] are thrown or thought about, to create a safer environment that we didn’t have before.”

Palmer said it was important to discourage unregistered events, but not prevent students from following existing procedures for events.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t punish somebody for doing something right,” Palmer said. “If you go through the proper process for registering a public party, that’s what they want you to do. By taking that away, you’re taking away people’s capability of doing it in the right way, so they’re probably going to go more behind closed doors, which is a less safe option.”

Student self-governance

Hutchinson said the private party ban and associated changes were not administrative sanctions against Sid. 

“These policies were not sanctions against the college, but were worked out in cooperation with the Sid Rich College master Ken Whitmire and with my office, led by Associate Dean Ostdiek,” Hutchinson said. “We wanted the college to demonstrate that it could govern itself, rather than simply responding to outside direction.”

Hutchinson said he sees the involvement of Sid student leadership in the creation and enforcement of the changes as a success of the college system.

“[Sid leaders] have led community-based discussions leading to remarkable strides in student self-governance,” Hutchinson said. “If all students at Sid Rich will comply with the policies led by the college leadership, Sid will be a stronger community with many, many fewer concerns of problematic and illegal behavior.”

Palmer said he is optimistic about the involvement of Sid government in the changes.

“The administration has a lot of confidence in student leadership,” Palmer said. “We’ll be able to show everybody that we had a bad situation here and we’ll actually be able to do something about it to have something positive come out of it. It’ll show that self-governance is the best option: We have this bit of autonomy and self-policing that actually legitimately works and the students in these positions aren’t just figureheads.”

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