Colleges host students from University of Puerto Rico
On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, made landfall on Puerto Rico. The storm destroyed access to electricity, clean water and communications for the entire island. In addition to the wide-scale destruction of homes, businesses and institutions on the island were also destroyed. Still suffering from both Hurricane Maria and the prior Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico has been forced to close hundreds of schools and universities, posing major challenges to its education system. The University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the largest public university in Puerto Rico, remains open; however, some services are interrupted, leaving uncertain the educational futures of around 58,000 UPR students.
Responding to this disaster, several American and Canadian colleges and universities have offered students from UPR a free semester of study in the spring of 2018. Amherst not only invited UPR students to its campus, but it has also covered all educational costs related to enrollment. Likewise, Wesleyan has covered housing and meals as needed. In Providence, R.I., Brown has accepted 50 UPR students and assisted with travel and housing. Cornell has accepted up to 58 students from UPR and included tuition, room and board. Similarly, New York University has created the Hurricane Maria Assistance Program, which has provided 50 Puerto Rican students with a free spring semester. Other institutions to respond with assistance for Puerto Rican students include New Jersey City University, Tulane, Pomona and Smith.
The free semester of study for this spring is meant to enable Puerto Rican students whose lives have been disrupted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma to continue their educations until they can return to their home institutions. Thus, these programs apply only to the spring semester of 2018.
Harvard hires a new president
On Sunday, Harvard announced that Lawrence Bacow, former president of Tufts and former chancellor at MIT, will become its 29th president. Bacow will succeed Drew Faust, Harvard’s first female president, who will step down at the conclusion of this academic year after 11 years of service. A Michigan native, Bacow has an undergraduate degree in economics from MIT and three graduate degrees from Harvard. During his tenure, Bacow plans to collaborate with Harvard’s peer institutions and the broader world.
Columbia studies sexual assault
In 2014, Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia, carried a 50-pound mattress around campus to protest how the university had dealt with her sexual assault complaint. Around the same time, Columbia launched the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT), a project aimed at gaining a better understanding of students’ social lives in order to help prevent further assaults.
The project took a new approach to researching sexual assault by sending sociologists and anthropologists, including Columbia professors, into the field. This involved taking notes at bars, sporting and club events, parties and other student-frequented locations. The project soon became controversial among students, some of whom felt uncomfortable with the intrusion. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, the university took measures to ensure the consent and confidentiality of all who were observed and interviewed.
In the fall of 2017, SHIFT reported its findings in 10 papers and a book. While the findings are still slowly being released, Columbia is already trying to adapt based on the results. For example, an effort has been made to increase the availability of late-night public spaces, such as dining halls, in an attempt to prevent students from ending the night intoxicated in dorm rooms. As more information comes out, the study will continue to inform the general public and influence Columbia’s policies surrounding sexual assault.
Amherst updates its party policy
At the end of January, Amherst released updates to its party policy. The new policy states, “No guest is allowed to serve alcohol to another guest.” Any over-21 guest who wishes to drink must provide their own alcohol, and consumption is limited to six units. A unit is defined as 12 ounces of beer or cider or five ounces of wine. Also, drinking games and hard alcohol are not permitted at registered parties.
Some larger-scale policy changes include altering party occupancy limits and allowing only one party per room on a given date. The changes strengthen the requirements of party hosts by increasing the necessary number of party sponsors, requiring sponsors to work with college staff and decreasing the amount of time sponsors are given to clean up after a party. The repercussions for hosts who do not comply with these policies have also become stricter. Students have expressed frustration with the sudden change in policy, but Amherst’s administration has defended the change by citing increased damages due to parties in recent years. Amherst’s policy update is reminiscent of changes to party policies put in place by the College this past year.