Official party pooper riles Seattle U. students
An administrator says he just ensures that students follow the code of conduct, but some deplore his tactics.
Seattle Times higher education reporter
Seattle University conduct codeSEATTLE UNIVERSITY'S 19-PAGE Code of Student Conduct states its goal is to "promote the developing character, conscience, citizenship, civility, and individual and social responsibility of our students."
The code "applies principally to conduct that occurs on University premises or at University-related activities or facilities. University premises mean all land, buildings, facilities, and other property owned or leased by Seattle University. Off-campus conduct may also subject a student to disciplinary or other administrative action when, in the judgment of University officials, the alleged conduct violates the Code."
Students are expected to "behave as exemplary citizens when present in the surrounding neighborhoods." The code includes sections on harassment and discrimination and "obscene or vulgar behaviors that demonstrate a lack of respect for others."
Other universities have similar codes. The University of Washington's Student Conduct Code applied primarily to campus activity until last year, when the Board of Regents voted to extend certain provisions to a residential area north of Northeast 45th Street, which includes Greek housing.
Four Seattle University seniors who tried to organize an off-campus party over Memorial Day weekend say it was supposed to be a last hurrah before graduation with a theme that pokes fun at fraternity and sorority types.
Women were to wear Victoria's Secret Pink-brand sweats or Abercrombie & Fitch clothing and talk constantly on their cellphones, according to the invitation on the social-networking site Facebook. Guys were to wear turned-up — "popped" — collars, aviator sunglasses and flip-flops. The event was dubbed the "Douchebag" party.
But when Seattle U. administrators found the invite on Facebook, they were not impressed.
"Be advised that your online advertising for the party of Sunday May 25th is potentially in violation of the Seattle University Code of Student Conduct," wrote Glen Butterworth, assistant to the dean of students, in an e-mail to the seniors. "You will be held responsible if you host an event with a theme of gender bias."
The seniors decided to cancel their party. So, too, did another group of students hosting an off-campus party earlier this month — also advertised on Facebook — when Butterworth showed up on their doorstep. Butterworth told those students he knew of their plans and that city police and state liquor authorities would be enforcing any code violations.
The incidents have some of the 7,500 students at the private Catholic college fuming about what they see as heavy-handed tactics and online snooping by administrators. But Butterworth said the university administration monitors sites like Facebook only when something is specifically brought to their attention, and that they are acting in the Jesuit tradition of "cura personalis" — care of the whole person.
"Our education doesn't really stop when students leave the classroom," Butterworth said. "In some ways, it begins there."
But Nicholas Lollini, editor in chief of the student newspaper The Spectator, in an editorial last week compared administrators to baby-sitters who are "flexing their authority in a pre-emptive fashion."
"It is the responsibility of the institution to provide an integrated and fulfilling academic experience, not to arbitrarily seek out and expose individuals who choose to spend their off-campus time in a fashion that the university does not hold in high regard," he wrote.
Gina Corsiglia, who graduated from Seattle U. earlier this year with degrees in art history and French, said perhaps 50 people were planning to attend the party she was helping organize for May 16: "Everything was going to be great. Everyone was excited," she said.
But then, hours before the party was to start, Butterworth showed up.
"I was really mad, actually," Corsiglia said, after finding out about his visit. "I thought it was pretty outrageous that he came physically to our doorstep ... We weren't even going to serve alcohol. It was bring your own beer, if people wanted to come and drink."
Corsiglia said she and her four roommates — three of whom are still students — have always acted responsibly and have been leaders on campus. They felt upset that they weren't trusted by administrators.
"It's none of their business," Corsiglia said. "They had no right to do that. It's a private residence."
Corsiglia said she advertised on a social-networking site because it's the easiest way to get in touch with other students: "Everyone checks their Facebook accounts a million times a day," she said.
Butterworth, a Jesuit who lives on campus, said he has stopped by perhaps two dozen student houses either before or after parties in nearly two years at Seattle U. "It's not uncommon for me to take a little stroll through the neighborhood and let them know about the resources available," Butterworth said. "I needed them to know, to just be aware, that we enforce student policies, and that the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Liquor Control Board would be doing the same."
Butterworth said his intent is not necessarily to shut down parties: "I understand. I want to shake a leg, as well," he said. "I am just hoping they will be responsible."
Butterworth, 37, has set up his own page on Facebook, a necessary step to view student posts.
He said sites like Facebook can be a "cesspool" at times, and that students don't always realize that careless posts can come back to haunt them. But Butterworth said he doesn't spend much time on the site, much less police it.
As for the "Douchebag" party, Butterworth said that even parodies can be unacceptable if people are encouraged to use offensive language when addressing the opposite sex.
"I'm not sure that everyone at this party would have understood it was a spoof or understood the context," he said.
But one of the organizers of the party, who asked to remain anonymous, said he couldn't understand how the advertising showed gender bias when it was poking fun at both men and women. And, he said, Seattle U. needs to find a sense of humor and avoid using such "passive-aggressive" methods to shut down parties.
The issue has been bubbling at Seattle U. since January, when some students organized an off-campus party with a vulgar name that referred to the female anatomy. At that party, men came dressed as safari-style hunters while women came dressed as prey — tigers or lions.
The party attracted hundreds but led to an outcry on campus over the name and theme. The campus Office of Multicultural Affairs held two forums at which students talked about freedom of speech, gender, empathy and respect.
Some of the party organizers faced consequences through the university's conduct code system, although Seattle U. declined to provide details due to student-privacy concerns.
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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