September 8, 2011

Student Assembly Wants Cornell to Hire Student Sober Monitors

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At an Interfraternity Council meeting Wednesday night, Student Assembly leaders introduced the “Cayuga’s Watchers” initiative, a proposal that would send anonymous student employees to parties to spot potential alcohol or health crises.

Under the plan’s trial run, teams of at least four students — who would each be paid approximately $10 an hour by Cornell — would monitor the safety of a party’s attendees. They will not be identifiable as “Watchers.” Instead, they would be seen as “peers trying to help rather than as someone trying to end a student’s night,” according to a pilot proposal presented Wednesday.

The Cayuga’s Watchers will not have disciplinary authority or be responsible for reporting instances of substance abuse, the plan’s sponsors said. Additionally, the Watchers will only attend parties at the request of the individuals running the event.

S.A. Executive Vice President Adam Gitlin ’13, who pitched the proposal along with S.A. President Natalie Raps ’12 and Student Health Task Force Leader John Mueller ’13, said that the proposal is initially intended for on-campus events, both Greek and non-Greek. He added, however, that the proposal’s sponsors would be “working to get it moved off campus as well, especially because so many social events have been moving off campus.”

Gitlin stressed that the information provided to the Cayuga’s Watchers would be “completely confidential.”

“Watchers are unintrusive; it’s simply a program of friends looking out for friends,” he said.

Gitlin added that the Cayuga’s Watchers program is distinct from the sober monitors currently responsible for supervising fraternity parties because the new program is explicitly geared toward ensuring the safety of students.

“[Sober monitors are] checking whether or not the door to the upstairs is closed and that the party’s not too loud, among many other things. Watchers are there looking out solely for the well-being of other party-goers,” he said.

Raps said that, in addition to support from a “truly unified student body,” the proposal has garnered significant backing from administrators.

“Currently, the administrative support has been overwhelming,” Raps said. “This is the answer to the call for a student-led initiative to address the high risk drinking environment we have here.”

According to Mueller, President David Skorton, Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 and Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 have expressed their support for the proposal.

“What makes Cayuga’s Watchers different is a social-peer model that does not take a disciplinary or judiciary approach like many of the administration’s policies,” Mueller said. “The idea is that it is students looking out for students and not about intrusion or discipline.”

Raps, Gitlin and Mueller emphasized that similar programs are already in place at Haverford College and Dartmouth College.

At Haverford, following a program begun Haverford senior Jeffrey Millman, “Quaker Bouncers” are trained to “recognize signs of alcohol over-consumption, maintain a safe party environment and communicate with campus police officers as appropriate,” according to the proposal.

Due to the Quaker Bouncers, Haverford saw a significant decline in alcohol-related hospitalizations and property damage, and it improved response times by the police and EMS volunteers, the proposal’s sponsors said.

Matthew Sloan ’13, IFC representative for Sigma Alpha Mu, said after Wednesday’s meeting that it seemed the majority of the IFC was receptive to the proposal.

“Although the leaders of the Cayuga’s Watchers have their hands full in regards to developing a standard operating procedure for the program, it is nonetheless a positive initiative at a time in which a tremendous amount of negative energy surrounds Greek life on campus,” Sloan said. “The Greek community and the Cornell community as a whole need to find innovative ways to limit excessive drinking and other reckless behavior at parties, and this is a step in the right direction.”

Rebecca Harris contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Kerry Close