Oral history: students react to changing social climate

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Editor’s note: This piece accompanies a story about increased police presence off-campus.

A week into the fall 2017 semester, Ben Moss, ’18, and ten friends had a small gathering off-campus when they heard a knock on the door.

“I had ten guys over, only guys, all of us are 21,” Moss said. “We were playing music, and the music might have been a little too loud, but we were really just hanging out and not causing any trouble.”

Moss explained to the police officer at the door that he was hanging out with 10 friends, all of whom were of-age, and apologized for the noise.

“(The officer) said, ‘Yeah, 10 guys? And what, 30 girls?’” Moss said.” I said, ‘I wish there were 30 girls here.'”

Moss was cited and given a $150 fine.

“I’m upset because it’s my senior year and the stuff that my friends and I have been able to do safely through my four years at Lehigh all of a sudden isn’t OK,” Moss said.

Only a week earlier, before classes had started, Moss and his friends had a much bigger social gathering.

“The cops came by and said it was too loud and they could hear it from the street,” Moss said. “They told us to end it and we did. They gave us a warning and didn’t give us a citation or anything. We were compliant and shut down the party.”

Moss said there has been a change in the campus atmosphere and it is linked to the way police and the administration are treating students.

Lehigh’s social scene and campus climate, as well as an increased police presence, have emerged as topics of conversation throughout the campus community. Students shared their thoughts on these issues with The Brown and White.

(Click on photos to hear student’s opinions)

(Parker Hentz/B&W Staff)

(Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

(Parker Hentz/B&W Staff)

 

 

 

 

Students have expressed concerns about a lack of communication between the police, administration and student body:

Netta Cudkevich, ‘19: The letter that (the police) sent out explaining themselves, I feel like it was written in a demeaning, condescending tone. Instead of saying, ‘Hi, we’re on your side, we don’t want to give every student a criminal record, we just want to keep you guys safe, keep your drinking to a responsible level,’ they put quotations around valid student concerns. They used quotations and thought it was comical, but it’s actually how students are feeling.

Madi Welker, ‘19: It’s created a community of fear, where I am soberly driving down East Fifth and I see a cop, and I start panicking. That’s something I just don’t think should be happening. I think there’s a huge miscommunication between LUPD and BPD and the school, and I think there’s multiple ways this can be fixed by creating a means of communication where we can all discuss the best ways to have a safe party.

Julia Woloshin, ‘19: My main concern has everything to do with the administration and students. Frankly, the (email) was disappointing. Saying ‘21 is 21’ did not give information about creating a safe social climate on campus. A lot of people are confused because of the lack of communication. I don’t think the letter has done much to ease some of the confusion. The administration, the police and the students should work together because all groups have interests at stake here, and there is nothing we stand to lose by cooperating.

Maddie Braman, ‘19: I feel like people just feel frustrated, myself included. The administration hasn’t really been responsive, just the police. President Simon hasn’t come out and said anything about it, which I think is concerning a lot of people. I think people are frustrated because they feel like they can’t really talk to anyone about it. I think (the police) are being transparent but I don’t think it’s effective. They’re being very clear about their zero-tolerance policy, but I don’t think using force and police intimidation is effective. It’s a short-term solution, not a long-term solution. I think if they genuinely cared about students abusing alcohol, they would work with students and work with the community, but none of that is going on. Students are saying they are nervous to leave their rooms, they don’t want to go out, and (the police) are basically dismissing that by saying, ‘If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you be worried?’ They aren’t even addressing that students are worried.

Cal Portnoy, ’18: We get word from the athletes that their coaches have spoken with Chief (Edward) Shupp and that they have been advised not to go out this weekend because they are looking to cite as many kids as they can. It hurts my feelings that the school doesn’t care as long as you’re not an athlete. The chief of police will warn the coaches to warn the athletes, and just because I’m friends with an athlete, I knew. It is complete favoritism.

(Click on photos to hear student’s opinions)

(Parker Hentz/B&W Staff)

(Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

(Parker Hentz/B&W Staff)

 

 

 

 

Some students said the social scene at Lehigh is integral to its reputation and appeal:

Matthew Sheehan, ‘19: What sets (Lehigh) apart is the fact that it is a great school that is very social and has a lot of fun. It’s not like you are going to study for fours years and learn nothing else. You are going to learn social skills and make connections and basically have an experience that you are going to remember for the rest of your life. It’s something my parents are very proud of, and it makes them look back at Lehigh in a very fond manner. I think everyone is kind of on the same page. (Partying) is a part of Lehigh’s culture and tradition. There is a safe way to do it, and it would be kind of extreme to try and stop it all, impossible actually.

Sofia Gracia, ‘19: I get the school’s need to restrict drinking but to restrict the partying and the socialization is having a negative impact. I think (the party culture) is a big reason why students come here. It’s been said a million times, it’s the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. It should be more about drinking responsibly than zero tolerance because kids are going to do it whether we say it’s OK or not.

Cal Portnoy, ‘18: My aunt was here in the ’90s, my dad was here in the ’80s and all I hear about is that the culture of partying has been around forever. That’s why so many alumni have kids who go here. On top of the academics, we can actually have fun, too. We are one of the few schools that can do that. We are kids. Let us be kids. Stopping us from drinking isn’t going to make us want to drink less, it’s going to make us want to drink more.

Matthew Sheehan, ’19: I think the social culture is the differentiating factor between Lehigh and other top colleges. I think they are going to drive away a lot of potential applicants.

(Click on photos to hear student’s opinions)

(Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

(Parker Hentz/B&W Staff)

(Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

 

 

 

 

Students conveyed dismay about the campus climate:

Sofia Gracia, ‘19: Everyone is a lot sadder. There is nothing to look forward to. Everyone keeps saying ‘Not my Lehigh.’

Cal Portnoy, ‘18: This is what (the police) don’t understand: when you take (partying) away for a certain period of time, not only are people going to want to push back more, (but) exactly what they don’t want to happen will happen.

Ben Moss, ‘18: We’ve had some close calls, but I think we’re being punished for stuff that happened at Penn State or Lafayette, or just the police don’t like us.

Sofia Gracia, ’19: My sister is a freshman. I feel bad for her. It’s hard to meet people just sitting in your dorm. It’s fun to go out and talk to different, older girls. It’s sad that she doesn’t get to have the experience that I had.

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5 Comments

  1. I feel bad for the residents of south Bethlehem who are not Lehigh students. They are being subjected to a party scene that should only be happening on campus. This is an unintended consequence of the Lehigh social policy. The social policy needs to be reformed so that students can have these events in their dorms and fraternity/sorority houses in a controlled responsible way that does not cost $5000 per event in security. I remember that the university brought a beer truck to the freshman orientation on the university lawn in the Fall of 1982. Obviously liability exposure has changed since then but some kind of novel solution needs to be found. The idea that students are going to sit around drinking kombucha and singing Kumbaya is not a solution.

    • Thank you, Tom! I’m Lehigh ’87. Even when I was 21, the Hill was a place where the students hung out, had fun, and built life time connections to our beloved also mater – yes, there was a lot of beer. But virtually no one drove anywhere. I don’t remember conflicts with residents. I never had a single friend arrested or cited. Pushing the parties off campus has given the administration a pass, apparently become an income source for the BAPD, created havoc with long-term, tax paying residents, and generally dispersed the social center. And, let’s not pretend that abolishing the Greek system would solve the drinking issues. I think that’s a cop out, too…and no I wasn’t Greek. i don’t think Eighteen to Twenty two year olds have really changed at all.

  2. Hey Generation Z–here’s a big secret–you don’t have to relive the old days of your parents and grandparents–you can actually make different choices with your lives! And even better, those choices can be smarter ones. Congratulations. You have an opportunity to be the change. If what that means to you is that it is a requirement to blackout as quickly as possible, then maybe take a step back and examine why you’re in college at all. “Work hard play hard” actually has two parts to it, I think. If play is this much more important than work, then think about a different path.

  3. I feel like this article is missing a key viewpoint. It’s all Lehigh students, but Lehigh University shares a community with South Bethlehem. What do residents of South Bethlehem think about Lehigh’s party culture that spreads through the neighborhoods?

    This article confirms one view point but the reporter didn’t seem to take the effort to search out the other side. I know myself and many of my friends believed Lehigh’s party culture was invasive to others living in South Bethlehem.

    • The B&W is almost always on the side of the South B residents and Lehigh administration. This is the first article I’ve ever seen that shows what the silent majority of Lehigh students think. The whole point of the article was to present that viewpoint in contrast to the consistently anti-greek, anti-drinking editorials published by this paper. You may say Lehigh students are ‘invasive’ to local residents, but without their economic contribution to Bethlehem, the city might not exist as there is nothing here besides Lehigh and Harrahs…The locals really should be doing everything they can to make students feel more comfortable contributing even more to the local economy; instead, they adopt an US vs THEM mentality where it is almost a manifestation of class warfare. This only results in missed business opportunities from their side by which they improve their own and their families’ lives dramatically.

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