In an effort to clarify definitions of “public” and “private” space in the Pomona Student Handbook, the Student Delegation to the Student Affairs Committee (SDSAC) drafted a proposal last week that would define “private space” as single and double residential rooms on campus and common spaces assigned and made accessible exclusively to up to eight students.
The proposal was reviewed on March 4 by the full Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which is comprised of the members of SDSAC and an equal number of faculty members and administrators, including Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum and Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the college’s legal counsel, dubbed “The Lawyers” by SAC members, after which it will return to SAC for discussion.
“The goal is consistency and clarity,” said ASPC President Stephanie Almeida ’11. “There are a lot of references to public space in the handbook, but nowhere do you see any mention of where the line between public and private space is drawn. The proposal is not changing the definition of private space, it’s creating one.”
According to the handbook, possession of “open containers of alcohol or cups containing alcohol in public space” constitutes a violation of policy, and “private gatherings in residence hall rooms that infringe on public space or become a public nuisance will be dispersed and sanctioned.”
SAC member and Clark I RA Ariel Gandolfo PO ’11 said that the proposed definition would address these issues.
“For our purposes, it relates to the alcohol policy,” he said.
Gandolfo said one of the goals of defining private space is to create a specified “space where a 21-year-old can drink without violating the [school’s] codes of conduct.” He said that the proposed change would help clarify the role of an RA, as there would be no ambiguity about where students can be written up for drinking.
Almeida said that many spaces on campus are private in practice, but are considered public.
“As far as common spaces [in suites] go, those are places where people put their personal belongings. It’s not really public and shouldn’t be treated as such,” she said. “The general idea would be that, if students are living in a suite, if they agree to take responsibility for that space, and if access to that space is restricted, it’s theirs.”
According to Feldblum, the SDSAC proposal is relevant to the new north campus Pomona residence halls.
“I think it is great that the Student Affairs Committee is looking to see if and how we can refine the definition of private and public space to address the living room spaces of suites—where those who have access to that living room are just the students who live in the suite,” she said. “Before the new residence halls, we had very few spaces like that, but with the new residence halls, we have introduced many suites with living rooms.”
According to ASPC South Campus Representative Ian Gallogly PO ‘13, the proposed definition applies to all Pomona residence halls.
“While the proposal would have a large effect on the new dorms, it’s about privacy across all residence halls,” he said. “This definition would encompass the Lawry common rooms, access-restricted hallways on north campus, a few suites on south campus, and any residential space on campus assigned and made accessible only to its residents.”
According to Almeida, the administration has been “open and generally receptive” to the new definition. Gandolfo agreed.
“Administrators have been fairly supportive in at least talking about this issue, but there are other constraints they need to take into account, which I respect,” he said. “The college gets in trouble if alcohol is provided to minors and people are transported to the hospital, so the college can’t be providing an environment where those sort of things happen.”
Gallogly acknowledged this concern, but pointed to starkly different substance policies at the other 5Cs.
“The school says they have to watch their back, but why don’t CMC and Harvey Mudd have to?” he said. “I don’t think Pomona students want the alcohol culture of CMC, but I think they deserve the freedom to enjoy a beer in their suite if they are of age, without worrying about keeping the window blinds shut or having an RA walk through. The liability claim is legitimate to an extent, but it has been taken too far. This is about giving students the respect they deserve as adults who can make decisions about substance use for themselves,” he said.
Feldblum said that the school’s liability regarding substance issues is important to her, but it is not her main concern.
“To be sure, many colleges have been sued for a whole variety of reasons,” she said. “I am far more interested in developing policies that make sense for Pomona, and that will help us support an inclusive, safe, responsible residential environment on campus, and allows all students to live, work, and socialize together better than in developing policies simply to avoid lawsuits.”
According to Feldblum, once the school’s legal counsel has reviewed the proposal and any necessary changes have been made, the proposal will be formally released to the student body for a comment period.