November 5, 2019

GUEST ROOM | As Panhellenic Council Votes, Cayuga’s Watchers Is Taking on Party Culture

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As advocates of a safer social scene for more than five years, Cayuga’s Watchers greatly appreciates the sentiment of Panhellenic President Maya Cutforth’s ’20 efforts to improve event safety.

We were founded in 2012 at a similarly pivotal moment, in the wake of another senseless student death. Cayuga’s Watchers positioned itself as a uniquely student-driven response to an intractable national crisis — the normalization of high-risk alcohol use and insufficient safety measures at collegiate parties. Our goal has never been to stop partying, but to instead educate and promote safer behaviors throughout Cornell’s vast social scene, building partnerships and only ever showing up when we are invited.

The mandates proposed by Cutforth would see trained employees of Cayuga’s Watchers required at every event hosted by a fraternity. Of course, we have always encouraged organizations to request our services of their own volition. Requesting highly trained, paid and truly sober “Watchers” for events has always been completely confidential, free and entirely opt-in, putting control and responsibility back in the hands of student-leaders.

As an organization, we strive to continue our tradition of independence and only work events where we are requested. This distinction between required versus requested is important to our mission because Cayuga’s Watchers was always designed to operate fully independent of the University. In fact, we believe deeply that much of our success can be credited to the fact that we only work events to which we are invited, and that event hosts can trust us to support them even if their event is unregistered or off-campus. However, we feel the overall sentiment of promoting a safe campus culture is highly representative of our core values as an organization. We are pleased to see that student-leaders across campus are taking initiative to create structural, lasting change. Therefore, we hereby pledge to rise to the occasion and staff as many events as possible.

As an organization, we will always strive to minimize the damaging effects of heavy drinking, including alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, property damage and more. Yet our chief goal remains: a dramatic cultural shift whereby all students in our community prioritize safety and consider how their actions affect their entire sphere of influence. We’ll only get there with buy-in from student organizations and stronger, more effective partnerships. And we’re stepping up our efforts to meet the challenge.

We’re newly focused on recruiting diverse and socially conscious employees, aiming to provide unobtrusive and effective service for any host that requests us, ideally drawing from the membership of their own organization. We will continue to offer the condensed general training programs we’ve expanded in recent years; however, employees will have extensive new training opportunities to workshop and practice their skills, becoming truly active bystanders who effectively blend in with the crowd and never take away from the good vibes. We’re doing everything we can, but it will take the renewed commitment of student organizations and individuals to actually make an impact. Working in tandem with sober monitors, rather than outright replacing them, Watchers increase the number of sober individuals present at an event — so there’s always someone nearby who can react decisively and effectively in an emergency and “watch out” for ways to positively impact the trajectory of someone’s night.

So, if you believe that students should unite to support each other’s health and safety, and if you believe in the power of students to fundamentally improve the campus culture, then we urge you to join us. Let us know how we can better support bystander intervention efforts across campus. Schedule a training for your club or team. Consider applying to work as a “Watcher” or to join the e-board or board of directors and, most importantly, request Cayuga’s Watchers for your next event. This is the type of collective action we really need — students watching out for other students, taking charge and changing campus culture for the better.

Page Robinson is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is the president and CEO of Cayuga’s Watchers. Samantha Lee is a junior in the College of Engineering and is the vice president of scheduling. John R. Mueller is a co-chair of the Cayuga’s Watchers board of directors. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com.