This FAQ is the direct result of student requests for specific answers to questions about student group social event registration. The questions came from students who shared their concerns and hope for more clarity around a process that can be complex and confusing. VPUL listened, and continues to seek student feedback about this process.  Event registration is in place to help students relax and have fun, safely, not to deter or squelch parties. This process has evolved over the years to meet students where they live, work, and socialize. These administrative expectations come from a place of community caring and collaboration. If, after reading through the FAQ, you have additional questions, please send them to vpul-central@pobox.upenn.edu.


EVENT REGISTRATION

Why is Penn imposing new rules requiring students to register their parties?

This isn't new, and the expectations are for student groups, not individuals. Registration has been in place for many student groups, primarily fraternities hosting parties in their on-campus houses or third-party venues, since the late 1990s. These expectations were put into place as a response to deeply concerning, high-risk activities -- including deaths.

Registered events are safer than unregistered events. The event registration process and the Event Observer program are in place to guide students in hosting safer social events and to reduce the highest level of risk that can happen at unregistered events, which includes overcrowding issues, fire hazards, and consuming alcohol in a way that is a threat to the health and safety of individuals in our community. It is entirely possible to host events with alcohol that are lower in risk, as many student groups do. The goal of these policies is to help all students achieve this.

OK, so what is new then?

Before, only registered, recognized organizations wanting to have an event in an on-campus space (such as fraternity house or Houston Hall) OR third-party venue (such as a club) had to register.  Over time, student organizations began shifting group activity to off-campus houses in the neighborhoods.

Concerns about high-risk events in off-campus residences, combined with persistent complaints to Penn Police from West Philadelphia community members about student behavior off campus, led to the Task Force recommendation to broaden event registration in two key areas:

  • requiring all student groups, including those which operate off campus, independently of the University, to register events, and
  • requiring groups to register events planned for their off-campus residences as well as for on-campus locations and third-party venues.

What constitutes an event or party that needs to be registered?

The University cannot define a specific size or type of party or event for purposes of registration. Generally speaking, students should contact AOD if the event is intended to draw a crowd, is being hosted by one or more organizations, is being advertised/promoted, and involves the pooling of resources to purchase food, beverages, and/or other necessities.  Occupancy limits and/or lease language may help guide off-campus hosts in determining if their event constitutes a party. When in doubt, contact AOD and talk to your landlord.

OK, I think I understand that. I had a few people over recently. It wasn't a party, but Event Observers and Penn Police knocked on my door. Why?

Student behaviors in any size gathering can lead to community complaints and/or draw the attention of Event Observers and/or Penn Police. Noise complaints are a chief complaint. (Many noise complaints are quickly resolved by turning down music or moving guests indoors, allowing the event to continue as planned.)

Students living off campus are part of a neighborhood made up of other classmates, faculty, staff, and West Philadelphia residents unrelated to the university. These neighbors include families with small children and senior citizens. Neighbors are generally accepting of student socialization, but may tire of prolonged noise, loud music, or loitering. Community members make complaints almost every weekend of the year, citing gatherings large and small. Penn Police are obligated to respond to every complaint of a nuisance house, regardless of affiliation.

Besides noise and music, student behaviors that lead to community complaints include:

  • Over-crowing either outside or inside the house
  • Safety issues, such as students on the porch or yard appearing to need medical attention, students on the roof, doors/windows being blocked by furniture, etc.
  • Perceived serving of alcohol to underage students


This all seems pretty complicated. What is Penn doing to educate students about these rules?

The University Life Division, Penn Police, and many offices -- including Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives, Fraternity and Sorority Life, Student Affairs, and Student Conduct -- have long communicated about expectations related to student behavior. This communication intensified during, and after, the Task Force, at Town Hall meetings, a dozen focus groups, and in advising sessions with individual student leaders and groups. The Task Force recommendations are posted on the Provost's website.

The Task Force recommendations were communicated widely last spring. An all-student email about the implementation was sent before the start of classes. One-on-one, small-group, and large-scale student education sessions have transpired since before New Student Orientation. On September 13, 2017, an event for almost 800 representatives of 300+ groups was held in the Palestra to discuss student social life, hazing, interpersonal violence, and other safe living concerns.

VPUL and DPS are working closely with student leaders representing the Undergraduate Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Students' Assembly, and the University Honor Council, to further disseminate information directly to students. This FAQ is a prime example, as many of the questions came directly from students. VPUL invites students to submit comments or concerns to vpul-central@pobox.upenn.edu.

Additionally, DPS & VPUL are holding weekly information sessions with staff on hand to answer student questions. Students can sign up for one of these sessions by emailing vp@publicsafety.upenn.edu.

EVENT REGISTRATION PROCESS

What is the benefit of registering an event? It seems like a hassle.

Working with the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives (AOD) to register your organization's event will help you, and your classmates, think strategically about how best to host a fun, and safe, event. It is a time-consuming process, but that's because it's important to think about the type of event students want to host and to factor in potential safety concerns.

AOD staff guide student organizations through this process, helping them plan for sober hosts, food, a mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. AOD contracts with an approved licensed bartender service, and with approved security, which are required for all registered events to provide students with another layer of risk management.

Because this process can be complex, events need to be registered 10 days prior to taking place. AOD strives to expedite the registration.

VPUL recognizes that the advance planning time period could be a deterrent to student groups wanting to host an event with alcohol. The registration process is being reviewed to determine if a shorter time frame, or fewer steps, could be implemented to ensure that more safe events are planned each semester.

Are there limits to how many registered events can take place each night or weekend?

No. AOD will work with organizations wishing to plan simultaneous events. Some weekends have just a few registered events and other times there are more than a dozen events hosted by undergraduate, graduate, and professional student groups, on campus, off campus, and at third-party locations.

Why is it so expensive to host an event? My group was quoted a price of nearly $500 for bartenders and security.

Having a large, or even medium-sized, event that lasts up to four hours can be expensive. AOD and other advising offices, such as OFSL or OSA, work with groups planning events to review proposed budgets which can be hundreds of dollars for food and decorations. Alcohol is a major budget item, but University funds cannot be used for this purpose.

The University requires student groups to use approved bartenders and security to help minimize risk for student hosts, who might otherwise feel pressure to make difficult decisions serving alcohol to their peers. Bartenders can work alone or in pairs, and security generally work in pairs as a professional standard. These professionals issue wristbands at the doors and ensure that best practices are followed in serving alcohol at the bar.

Penn recognizes that hiring professional bartenders and security adds another expense to event-planning. The University negotiated a discounted rate for these services, and all fees go directly to the providers.

Penn is reviewing the feasibility of reducing, subsidizing and/or standardizing the costs to hire bartending and security to further incentivize safe event hosting and reduce the expense to student groups seeking to plan events with alcohol.

My group did the right thing and tried to register an event, but was denied. Why?

Most events are approved, but some cannot be approved due to risk factors, the prospective time, or proposed duration. AOD works closely with Risk Management to ensure consistency in cases where events cannot be approved. In many cases, student groups are able to reschedule the event for another date/time and be approved.

EVENT OBSERVERS

Who and what are Event Observers? How were they hired? How many applied?

The Event Observer (EO) program is not actually new; it is an expansion of the Alcohol Monitor program that has operated at Penn since 1999. The Alcohol Monitor program had functioned around on-campus spaces where social events are held, such as Greek chapter houses.

The Alcohol Monitor program expanded, and rebranded, after the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community. These part-time employees were renamed Event Observers to highlight their role supporting student hosts in managing safe events. Going forward, the Event Observers would roam the entire campus footprint, including off-campus neighborhoods.

Hundreds of applications were received to fill an expanded roster of EOs. All applications that came in before our interview period were reviewed. Those who were interviewed and hired received training prior to starting their work. Currently, the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives (AOD) employs 24 Event Observers. Each EO works a few nights a month.

The initial model for the Event Observers was built on the Alcohol Monitor job description in place for decades. However, after consultation with thoughtful students, and in close collaboration with student leaders, the Event Observer job description has been updated as of September 29, 2017, to highlight their mission to support students through education and communication.

Describe a typical night for an Event Observer. What, exactly, do they do? Where do they go? How will I know one if I see one?

EOs roam the extended Penn campus (meaning, on campus and off campus) in pairs. Two pairs are scheduled each shift, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Additional shifts are sometimes added during busier social times, such as Halloween, Homecoming, or Spring Fling.

Event Observers are visible for their EO identification badges. They carry a list of registered events for that night. They visit these events a few times over the course of a shift to help event hosts make sure that things are going smoothly and that any safety risks are handled so that the event can continue as planned. Some nights, Event Observers may visit four or more registered events. Other shifts have fewer registered events.

Host organizations work hard to pull together a plan for their events, and Event Observers work hard to help them achieve their goals for fun and safe events. In the rare event that a registered event is shut down early, it's usually due to safety concerns (such as overcrowding) that grew too difficult for the host organization to manage. Persistent noise complaints (and the hosts' inability/refusal to address) also could lead to ending a registered event.

What, exactly, do Event Observers do if they come upon an unregistered event?

Event Observers address unregistered events that are noticeable as they roam campus. Crowds, noise, and visibility intoxicated people may indicate an unregistered event. Upon encountering an unregistered event, the Event Observer will call Penn Police for assistance.

But what about that small gathering I had, where the Event Observer knocked on the door? We were surprised and confused.

Usually, the issue is noise. Even small groups can disturb the peace late at night. Penn Police are obligated to respond to community complaints about noise. Many noise issues are quickly resolved by groups turning down the music or moving indoors.

ENFORCEMENT/FOLLOW-UP

My roommates and I had an unregistered event in our off-campus house that was shut down by Penn Police. What happens next? Is there any such thing as a warning?

Under what circumstance would my group be sent to Student Conduct and receive sanctions for having a party?

Are the potential ramifications worse for a registered/recognized group, like a fraternity, versus an identified off-campus group?

For registered and recognized organizations, the type of alleged behavior and policy violation will determine if the incident will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC). Many incidents are not referred to OSC.

In cases involving alleged policy violations by recognized Greek fraternity and sorority organizations:

  • Lower level violations will be adjudicated through the Judicial Inquiry Board (JIB), with that student-led, Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life-advised board levying any sanctions and fines.
  • If the behavior of the organization warrants an immediate referral to OSC, OFSL will do so. If an organization has three, lower-level incidents, then OFSL automatically will refer to OSC.

In cases involving alleged policy violations by other registered/recognized organizations (such as performing arts groups, school-based groups, club sports):

  • The Office of Student Affairs (OSA), school-based advising offices, or other student organization advising centers will play a role in addressing lower level behaviors, including unregistered parties.
  • Some incidents may warrant a referral to OSC.


In cases involving alleged policy violations by Identified Off-Campus Groups, which are now expected to notify the Office of Student Affairs of their leadership, membership, and organizational residences:

  • Because these groups have no advisors, and operate intentionally outside of the University system, any potential policy violations will be referred to OSC.
  • Identified groups that notified OSA and/or registered events may be subject to educational programming from VPUL/OSA for low-level, first-time policy violations. For repeat offenses or serious violations, OSC will open an investigation against students as individuals, based on involvement in the group and leasing information.
  • Identified Off-Campus Groups which fail to notify OSA and which host unregistered events will be referred directly to OSC for any alleged violations of Penn policies. Individual members and the group may be subject to further sanctions by their landlords.


In cases where incidents are referred to OSC, potential outcomes include:

  • If, through the OSC process, the organization is found responsible for violating University policy, the group will be held responsible as a group.
  • If, in the same case, the behavior of an individual member of that group at the event necessitates follow-up, then OSC will do so. (Examples include someone who was uncooperative, combative, or violent.)


Published October 18, 2017