In summer 2012, John Mueller ’13, Eric Silverberg ’14 and Adam Gitlin ’13 were three Cornell students brainstorming how they could prevent dangerous situations from happening at parties and social events.
Years later, their ideas culminated in Cayuga’s Watchers — an independent network of workers dedicated to encouraging responsible drinking among Cornell students
These workers are anonymous to the public, and, at parties, aim to inconspicuously blend in with their fellow peers. Cayuga Watcher’s is also an organization qualified to be a third-party sober monitor for Greek life events after the recent reforms made in January.
The number of students who joined the program increased by almost two-fold between 2018 and 2019, with 127 students joining the program this past fall, according to the the organization’s annual reports found on the Cayuga’s Watchers website.
“To address this increased demand, Watchers is expanding recruiting efforts and working internally to motivate employees to watch as often as possible,” Page Robinson, former Cayuga’s Watcher’s president, told The Sun. “I expect the organization will continue to grow in size going forward.”
Although the number of Cayuga’s Watchers members has drastically increased, the frequency of events they staff has declined in response to the new Greek life regulations.
“While the intent of these changes was positive, we believe that they have also driven risk ‘underground’ and off campus,” Cayuga’s Watchers said in its 2019 annual report. “Chapters are increasingly unwilling to bring in ‘outsiders,’ even anonymous and independent bystanders like our Watchers.”
Since its founding, Cayuga’s Watchers has successfully intervened on 2,686 occasions and was present 551 events. During the 2018 to 2019 academic year, the organization staffed 71 events and reported 446 interventions, according to its 2019 report. All members receive formal training and are paid through donations, independent from the University, for their work.
“We learned about the [blood alcohol concentration] ranges, the path of alcohol through the body and at the end of training you have to take a test that has potential scenarios and written questions that were very detailed,” a Watcher told The Sun, who asked to remain anonymous to preserve the organization’s principle of maintaining worker anonymity.
Students hosting an event can contact the organization and request a group of Cayuga’s Watchers. The chosen Watchers must arrive at the party 15 minutes early to talk to the host, but once party-goers begin to show up, the Watchers go incognito, casually socializing with other students. Watchers only intervene if necessary.
“I would definitely consider myself the mom friend, so it’s like you’re getting paid to do something you would do anyway,” the Watcher said.
To reconcile the number of events with its increase in applicants, Cayuga’s Watchers is continuously striving to improve its staffing opportunities.
Mueller, the organization’s co-founder and co-chair, said Watchers is expecting a drastic increase in the number of events they will staff in the upcoming semester. In the coming weeks they expect to onboard close to 80 new members.
The Watchers are also looking to increase the range of events they monitor, hoping to move beyond the sphere of Greek life.
“I worry most about the so-called ‘dry’ events, because some students choose to pregame pretty intensely,” Mueller said. “I’m trying to make sure that we have the capacity to not just be at the events where students are being required to request us, but also at any large event.”
“We work for the students and our only objective is to keep parties safe,” Prof. William Sonnenstuhl, industrial and labor relations, an advisor and board member of the Cayuga’s Watchers told The Sun. “We just don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article featured a photo of Consent Ed instead of Cayuga’s Watchers. The photo has since been changed.