ODSA restricts summer mailings
By Andrew L. Fish
The Office of the Dean for Student Affairs placed new restrictions on mailings from Independent Living Groups and student activities to incoming freshmen. The restrictions prompted complaints from some student activities and the InterFraternity Council.
Staff of the Undergraduate Academic Support Office decided that incoming students were receiving too many mailings from student groups -- as many as 90 in some cases -- according to Residence/Orientation Coordinator Elizabeth M. Ling '90. As a result, the ODSA limited fraternities to one summer mailing, prohibited summer mailings from dormitories and academic departments, and only allowed activities to submit items for a single general mailing, rather than sending material directly to freshmen.
In addition, the ODSA restricted the depiction of alcohol in summer mailings. Fraternities cannot be "selling their houses on the basis of alcohol," said Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Mary Z. Enterline. This rule bans the practice of some ILGs of advertising house bars in rush books, among other things. Enterline said this policy was based on the advice of lawyers, since incoming students are below the legal drinking age in Massachusetts.
The ODSA also continued a ban on racist and sexist material which has existed for many years, Enterline said.
IFC President Anthony N. Gerber '90 said that some living groups felt the ODSA had been "a little picky" in enforcing the restrictions this year. He said some houses were forced to reprint books because they did not receive approval.
In prior years, ILGs had been permitted to place almost anything in summer mailings, Gerber said. But the ODSA has been more stringent this year, upsetting ILGs who felt "something was taken away from them," Gerber said. But other ILGs were "moving in the direction" of the ODSA guidelines independently, and were not opposed to ODSA oversight. An IFC advertisement in The Tech [June 5] protesting the classification of a photograph of a man with two bikini-clad women from a rush book as sexist did not represent the views of the entire IFC, Gerber said.
But Gerber said the IFC was most concerned with the restriction on the number of summer mailings. He explained that in the past ILGs had sent several items to incoming students, including rush books, party invitations, and followup letters. An IFC advertisement in The Tech [June 5] said the limit would "hurt summer rush efforts" and "make rush more difficult and costly that ever before." Even though his name appeared on the advertisement, Gerber distanced himself from its content. The IFC did not know how the mailing restriction would affect rush, he noted, though it could result in more telephone contact with freshman. But Gerber emphasized that the IFC had fought against the policy and was still opposed to it.
The consolidation of the activities mailing prompted concerns from two campus publications about possible censorship. The R/O committee asked activities for advance copies of materials to make sure they conformed with the ODSA standards. But The Tech and the alternative newspaper The Thistle did not allow the committee to conduct any prepublication review, and both publications were being printed shortly before the mailing was to be issued.
Steven D. Penn G, a member of the Alternative News Collective (which publishes The Thistle), complained that the approval procedure was "totally authoritarian." The policy is "basically being dictated by the Dean's Office [and] there is no appeal process," Penn said. "Where do you go if you disagree with a decision?"
Penn emphasized that not printing racist, sexist, or homophobic material were "things that I agree with." He "would feel much different if [the policy] were arrived at by students." Penn said summer mailings were communications from students to students and did not believe there should be administration interference. A student-enacted policy would also be more democratic, he said.
Penn said the Thistle staff did not modify the content of their issue for fear of exclusion from the mailing, and he did not believe the issue contained anything inappropriate.
Ling emphasized that the committee was not reviewing publications for editorial content. She said that only racist, sexist, or "obscene" material would be banned, though she could not give examples of what fell into these categories.
Ling said there had been almost no problems with other activity submissions. Also, she noted that very few activities had sent mailings independent of the activities packet in the past, so the consolidation of mailings had little impact.