Despite policy change, confusion surrounding student party policies rampant among Pomona students, RAs

Three college students stand smiling at the camera in front of some trees.
Jordy Gertner PO ’21, Haley Parsley PO ’21 and Isaac Cui PO ’20 are Judicial Board chairs. Matthew Wagner PO ’20 (not pictured) is J-Board’s fourth chair. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

For years, Pomona College students have taken pains to hide drinking behind closed doors and avoid making too much noise, out of fear of being punished under the school’s policies on unregistered parties, many of which, including those charged with enforcing the policies, find to be confusing and unclear.

Much of this confusion seems to have stemmed from a disconnect between policies on the books the training resident advisors receive and RA enforcement practices.

Current and former RAs said they were trained based on enforcement criteria that haven’t been included in Pomona’s policy in at least eight years, according to previous versions of the student handbook.

Natalie Huang PO ’22, a current RA, said the residence life coordinators conducting training this summer told her that a nonzero number of people with an atmosphere of a party constitutes an unregistered party. But that language doesn’t appear in the current policy.

“A social gathering may be dispersed only if it includes (1) excessively loud noise or (2) a violation of any section of the Alcohol and Other Drugs policy. Students who host such gatherings are responsible for the behavior of those who attend,” the 2019-2020 student handbook states.

Huang was not aware of this until informed by TSL during an interview.

This policy is new for the 2019-2020 school year. Pomona’s student affairs committee (SAC) revised the policy at the end of the spring semester, to clarify the chronic areas of confusion and discord.

Haley Parsley PO ’21, a current head sponsor and former RA, also said she was taught the nonzero guideline during RA training in summer 2018, despite it not being in the code. 

Previously, the policy did not make clear the criteria that would allow an RA to shut down unregistered parties.

“Private gatherings in residence hall rooms, or in common living areas of student suites, that infringe on public space or become a public nuisance will be dispersed and sanctioned. Students who host such parties are responsible for the behavior of those who attend,” the 2018-2019 student handbook states.

Director of residential life Steven Jubert denied that RAs were taught the nonzero guideline this summer but said it had been used in the past. 

“In previous years, [nonzero number of people with the atmosphere of a party] was one of the criteria used, as per campus policy. We no longer use this criterion as the Student Affairs Committee has changed this standard,” he said in an email. 

Despite Jubert’s statement that the guideline was once “campus policy,” student handbooks from the last eight years do not include references to such a policy. Jubert did not respond to further questions about this discrepancy. 

Pomona’s Judicial Board proposed the changes to the unregistered party policy to provide clearer qualifications for what constituted a party. Isaac Cui PO ’20, one of the judicial board chairs, described the previous policy as unclear and unspecific.

“Everyone on campus seems to believe that there is a rule that says if there’s a nonzero number of people at an event with the atmosphere of a party, then that constitutes a party,” Cui said. “The problem is, that’s not written down. In my view, that’s a big concern … you have this disconnect between what the policy says and how the policy is implemented.”

Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson, who sits on SAC, said she believes the changes to the policy are positive.

“The changes made to the unregistered party policy seek to provide greater clarity, and I believe a better understanding of our policies is always helpful for our community,” she said via email.

Jubert added that policy is not a top priority for RAs.

“We ask RAs to be familiar with policy, but they do not need to be experts. Policy enforcement is a small portion of the RA position,” Jubert said.

Huang said she found the “nonzero” language confusing, and suggested that OHRL should be clearer during training. 

“I was still confused [after training], I was [thinking], ‘What does that even mean?’ … It is very vague because it could just be five people in a room studying together and, well, [that’s a] nonzero number … It’s up to the RA on duty or the person that’s calling it in; it’s very relative,” she said. 

Parsley said her previous OHRL training did not give her an understanding of the policies on the books.

“I actually still have a lot of moments as a J-Board chair where there are things that I say, ‘It says this in the code,’ and actually it doesn’t, it’s just something OHRL taught me. … There’s not a lot of continuity,” she said.

Two current sponsors, Jay Scott PO ’22 and Connor Squellati PO ’22, also said the training they received on alcohol policy was unclear, and Squellati said it included the “atmosphere of a party” descriptor.

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