Housing to close before parade, students question decision
Most resident students will be at home or looking for somewhere to sleep for Parade Day this year, as University administration has announced that on-campus housing will close at 8 p.m. on the Friday before Spring Break.
Vice Provost for Student Formation & Campus Life Anitra McShea, Ph.D., said the decision was reached after several conversations about the dangers of Parade Day and the clash between The University’s mission and concern for students and the high-risk behavior associated with the event.
“We have very high values as a university community. So when I say in that bolded statement, which was very intentional in this communication, that the kind of culture I’m referencing that ‘the high risk behavior completely contradicts who we are as a Jesuit and Catholic university’ – that is a helm for the decision,” McShea said.
McShea, who teared up during an interview, said the decision reflects her responsibilities as an educator and her concern for student safety.
“I’m in the field of higher education and my job is to educate and do all that I can to make sure that students are safe and successful and I’m going to get a little emotional about this, but, I mean, I don’t even think we sleep during that weekend. It’s very emotional for us,” McShea said.
One student said the email students received seemed to express distrust in students.
“I feel like they don’t have much faith in us, assuming that we will make bad decisions,” first-year Gia Salsido said.
McShea said she knows many students are “socially responsible” but also expressed concern about high-risk behaviors, as have local officials.
“Local officials were very concerned. Last year, you know, Mayor Courtright had a very bad experience in the Hills. He approached several local institutions about the situation. He provided a very different lens from which to see all of the mayhem that was really going on in the Hills,” McShea said.
City of Scranton Mayor William Courtright office released a statement Wednesday about how The University, the city and the county are planning to partner to “curb problem behaviors that surround the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade,” especially in the Hill Section.
“The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is among the best and largest community celebrations our City has to offer,” Courtright said in the statement. “While the Parade itself is a wonderful tradition, I was very concerned last year by the kinds of behaviors I observed around the Parade and particularly in the Hill Section.”
“I reached out to the University to ask for help in addressing this challenge as it relates to their students. I am very pleased at the serious steps the University is taking in response,” he said in a statement.
“I recognize that individual students may participate or behave in a way that may not be problematic but when you look at the scale of everything that occurs, if you look at the Hill Section on what has been Parade Day Saturday morning from a distance, from this side of the street, from a sober perspective of people responsible for all student, then it becomes a concern and becomes a challenge,” Brad Troy, interim director of Residence Life, said.
Troy explained that while the decision is not popular, the reasoning behind it is strong. He said that the decision was partly made in order to reduce the number of students who expose themselves to unsafe and risky social behaviors.
“One of the reasons Dr. McShea has cited in some of her communications also is that the people that come to our campus either with a University of Scranton student or independent of University of Scranton students also pose problems, and the reality being more often pose some of the larger problems, but it’s people who come here because it’s a site to gather,” Troy said.
He also stressed his concern for students well-being at all times, not just during Parade Day weekend. From his position, high-risk drinking is always a concern. He explained that the goal of closing the residence halls early is to reduce the scale of the event.
Students involved with official University functions such as athletic teams or spring break service trips are permitted to stay on campus, and Residential Life is working directly with those departments and programs to collect that information. Seniors registered for Shamrockin’ Eve are permitted to stay in the residence halls until Sunday.
“It’s not a University life-long tradition, but it is a new tradition and is an important event for the development division of The University. So in trying to work effectively with other divisions at The University, we thought it would be fair to permit seniors to attend that event and participate in that as it tries to tie them more strongly to the alumni association moving forward,” Troy said.
McShea said that the University decision allowing seniors attending Shamrockin’ Eve to reside on campus is based on the event’s roots.
“Shamrockin’ Eve is philanthropic. We are starting that tradition of giving in that students are giving back to the University they love. Alumni are giving money to a scholarship fund. I mean, this is celebrating together. Seniors have been extended a privilege and we have great expectations about they respond. We want to say ‘Okay, you’re 21, you’ve earned the privilege, let’s be socially responsible and do what the St. Patrick’s Day parade and celebration is supposed to do,” McShea said.
Juniors who are 21 years old have expressed concern over the decision allowing seniors to stay on campus. These students question why they are not permitted to reside on campus.
“I’m 21 years old. The law says I’m allowed to drink, and The University is blatantly taking away that right,” junior Katherine Flanagan, said.
McShea said she understands this complaint.
“I recognize that juniors who are 21 will want to participate, but in the essence of the decision, they will have that privilege when they are seniors the following year. I care for them, I understand the quandary a bit there, and I respect it, but we are going to need them to go home and wait for next year. You’ll still get your opportunity. I respect their concern, but I hope that they respect our decision,” McShea said.
Seniors, argued McShea, are about to graduate and enter into the working world, and therefore are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.
“We have very high values as a university community. So when I say in that bolded statement, which was very intentional in this communication, that the kind of culture I’m referencing that ‘the high risk behavior completely contradicts who we are as a Jesuit and Catholic university’ – that is a helm for the decision,” Dr. McShea wrote.
Thomas Mannarino, a second year student at The University, disagrees.
“Drinking is on every campus. We are men and women for others, but we are also college students. I do think it’s possible to be both,” Mannarino said.
Flanagan also said the email sent to students not only felt like an attack, but did not align with The University’s Jesuit ideals.
“I understand the University’s motives 100 percent, but from a student perspective, the email and the decision felt like an attack. This situation should have been handled in a less aggressive way. We were told that our actions on Parade Day go against Jesuit values. Jesuits take education very seriously. I think the University should have harnessed those Jesuit ideas and taken an education approach,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan continued, “The NCAA holds meetings with student athletes each year to explain the dangers of engaging in risk behaviors associated with drinking. The University should do something like this. Make it mandatory for us to complete Alcohol Edu before we are allowed to stay on campus. Hold a meeting. Educate us.”
McShea said that in addition to the clash she finds between Jesuit values and college drinking, the University decision to close housing early and subsequently curtail student participation in Parade Day events was an effort against the drinking culture at The University.
“We know there’s a huge contingent of students who are socially responsible. At the same time, however, there is a large contingent of students who are not. We’re trying to chip away at the culture and minimize the risks. We want to take a stance and communicate very clearly and strongly that this is not who we are. So if a student says flippantly, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m staying around,’ well, they’re taking a higher risk,” McShea said.
Chief Donald Bergmann of The University Police Department expressed his concern for student safety, and his support for the decision to close housing early.
“The decision was made by The University, not The University Police; however I absolutely support the university decision and see it as a defining moment for the university to chip away at the drinking culture,” Bergmann said.
Chris Kollar, second year student, is wary of the University and University Police’s ability to “chip away” at the University drinking culture.
“Bottom line, the drinking culture exists. Cops can do all they want to stop it but it won’t work. Students will find a way to celebrate,” Kollar said.
Students do intend to find a way to celebrate, however. First year Sarah O’Connell described the rumors she has heard pertaining to the issue.
“I have heard that there are petitions circling around. I think that students will get desperate and end up sleeping anywhere,” O’Connell said.
Other rumors circulate campus, such as previous last minute decisions to keep housing open until Sunday. Interim Dean of Students Barbara King addressed this.
“I’ve been here for 8 years and I can assure you that has never happened before. It’s a rumor and it’s absolutely not true.”
She later explained prior Parade Day decisions.
“In past years we’ve moved it to Sunday at noon. And this year we changed it to Friday at 8; (the academic calendar) just hasn’t been updated yet. We don’t make decisions about Parade Day or spring break until this time of year,” King said Wednesday.
McShea also said the Friday closing time will be enforced.
“This decision will not change, so make plans accordingly.”