March 31, 2020
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Petition urges more dialogue

The student body tailgates during Homecoming 2013 together in one lot. (Tim Lee / Photo Emeritus)
The student body tailgates during Homecoming 2013 together in one lot. (Tim Lee / Photo Emeritus)

With new and controversial Homecoming changes taking place this semester, students and alumni alike have begun to voice their opposition to the Steering Committee’s new policies through an online petition.

Similar to reactionary movements last year, a petition by ’13 alumnus Mike Griffith has spread across social media, opposing the new changes to the tailgate at Homecoming poised to take place. The petition was created earlier this month, garnering 1,336 supporting signatures as of Monday, Sept. 29. The page is flooded with outrage and concern over the new rules. Moreover, last year’s petition creator, Tim Lee, a ’12 alumnus and Signal photo emeritus, and Griffith, this year’s organizer, both envisioned the same goals for their petitions – to “save Homecoming.”

Hosted on change.org, an online petition platform, the “Petition to Repeal Changes to the Homecoming Tailgate” for this year has a letter addressed to several groups in the Homecoming Steering Committee. It requests the committee to “please remove these restrictions and allow one of the most memorable days at TCNJ return to its roots.” More specifically, the petition targets the separation of the tailgate into two lots – Lot 4 being designated an alcohol-inclusive zone and Lot 6 an alcohol-free one. The letter in the petition calls the setup “unnecessary” and “oppressive,” as well as “arbitrary” and “patronizing” for the imposed alcohol limit allowed in the over 21-year-old area. “The College has seen the petition, but it is not persuasive, and that is not a function of the number of signatures,” said David Muha, vice president for Communications, Marketing and Brand Management. “The petition labels the changes for this year ‘arbitrary’ and ‘unnecessary.’ They were nothing of the sort. The plans for this year were developed with broad input to address very real problems with last year’s event.”

Last year, there were six reported alcohol-related transports, according to Campus Police Chief John Collins. These changes have been made with the intention of reducing the number of underage alcohol-related incidents.

“They overreach, overact and overcompensate,” Griffith said. “There is no need for such draconian measures.”

Although Griffith, along with many of the other petition supporters, has enjoyed all past Homecomings which he has attended — even with last year’s changes — he believes this year, the changes have gone too far.

“It is more than a day of drinking in the parking lot,” said Kate Aebischer, ’13 alumna who is planning on flying back to New Jersey for Homecoming.  “Regrettably, these separationist policies will put restrictions and boundaries between the flow of students and alumni, barring the connection between the two.”

Concerns have been raised on the petition page about the so-called segregation of the tailgate: it prevents parents from consuming alcoholic beverages without leaving their children behind, and for students over 21, it makes it difficult to hang out with younger friends while also being able to drink, Griffith said.

Others believe these changes tarnish the original purpose of Homecoming, as well.

“I feel like the spirit that I have seen the last two years just won’t be there anymore,” said Jennifer Sheridan, a junior early childhood and psychology double major. “I can’t imagine what it is going to be like this year. I feel like there must be a better way to ensure the students’ safety.”

Last year’s petition received 1,154 student signatures and 371 alumni signatures, according to Lee, accounting for nearly a fifth of the student body. Lee further explained his strategy on how to execute a successful petition.

“I was engaged with student leaders who were knowledgeable in the situation; printed and hand-delivered the petition to President Gitenstein’s office; and made myself available to the administration for follow-up,” Lee said.

As far as this year’s petition goes, Lee is unsure about the effect it will have.

“It was created very quickly after the changes were announced, so I don’t know if it’s been researched or made in collaboration with student leaders,” he said.

“The College is always interested in hearing from students on issues of concern, but dialogue is always going to be the most productive form of communication,” Muha said. “In the case of Homecoming, that dialogue needs to be centered on ways in which we can curb underage and excessive drinking.”

The end goal remains the same for both petitions. At most, Lee hopes to see the separation of the tailgating lots removed. However, the lack in dialogue between the actual petitioners and the committee has left these opposing sides on different pages.

“Petitioning for alterations to be made without acknowledging the problems and proposing alternate solutions will not result in change,” Muha said.

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