Aligning the punishment with the offense: Opposing a censure and calling for greater transparency

In considering the possible censure of Cap & Bells at tonight’s CC meeting, we believe that CC members should vote against censuring the group.

The nature of the incident was serious and should be addressed with fair consequences for both the individuals and organization leadership involved. Censuring the entire group, however, would fail to improve alcohol safety on campus and would needlessly punish a valuable artistic outlet for students. Cap & Bells is a crucial means of student artistic expression and serves as a community for students interested in theater. Cap & Bells has valid concerns about the outsized impact of a censure, as the timing of budget allocation can limit the group’s ability to plan productions far enough in advance. This is particularly important in the purchase of rights to plays, which must occur significantly ahead of when they will be performed. Delaying Cap & Bells ability to get funding for student art would not address alcohol safety and would penalize all the students involved in the group, including those absent from the event and students who will join over the next 18 months, including members of the Class of 2021.

The discussion of Cap & Bells’s value as an organization prompted by the possibility of censure, while valid, detracts from the problem this disciplinary action should try to solve: making students behave more safely. Censuring an entire group for the mistakes of a few is not a punishment that fits the offense, nor would it improve campus culture. The penalties already imposed by OSL – requiring alcohol and bystander training for all of Cap & Bells’ leadership, and forbidding alcohol at Cap & Bells parties until July 2018 – adequately sanction the organization for misleading Campus Safety and Security about the presence of alcohol at the party, having hard alcohol there, failing to monitor the event and creating a dangerous situation. The individuals involved should be held accountable, but this incident need not affect the whole organization. Furthermore, if CC censures Cap & Bells, this incident could discourage students from registering parties in the future to protect their organizations should anything go wrong, further detracting from alcohol safety.

This case raises important questions about the College’s treatment of student groups as the target of censures. It remains unclear what OSL determines to be a group event rather than simply a group of friends. In a small community, many students are part of overlapping groups. Hypothetically, if a group of a few students from the same Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-years (WOOLF) group is caught drinking, the entire Williams Outing Club, which includes every student who has ever participated in WOOLF, could be sanctioned. On what grounds, then, is the decision made to sanction a whole organization?

The basic events guidelines on the College’s website state: “Sanctions for individuals and groups running unsafe events will be meaningful, significant, transparent and uniformly applied.” This incident is evidence to the contrary – in addition to confusion about the distinction between individual and group responsibility, there is no transparency about OSL’s decision to bring charges to SOSC, nor SOSC’s decision-making processes. There are no standards determining how SOSC recommends sanctions, detracting from its ability to apply them uniformly.

To increase transparency, safety and student wellbeing, OSL, with student input, should clearly state what constitutes a group event. Furthermore, SOSC should clarify the standards for the sanctions they recommend. Having mutually agreed upon expectations would make consequences more fair and conducive to the goal of preventing unsafe situations. Better communication and accountability between College authorities and students will help to create a safer community while still encouraging student creativity and passion.

The following commentary serves as an addendum to the above editorial, taking into account new developments.

In light of CC’s decision last night not to censure Cap & Bells but instead issue a formal warning, the Record stands by its original recommendation and commends CC for rendering a thoughtful, holistic judgment. In deciding against a censure, CC recognized the need to respond to the violations of Cap & Bells that dutifully considered what would most bolster safer drinking while not punishing those who were in no way responsible for the conduct that prompted OSL to bring charges to SOSC. The formal warning, we hope, will allow for Cap & Bells to reflect on how to maintain a safe internal culture while not interfering with its ability to produce theater for the community and provide a supportive environment for thespians on campus.