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Smoking on Bryn Mawr College's Campus: Representing the Power of Student Participation in the Student Government Association

sara.gladwin's picture

My initial interest was the “rules” of Bryn Mawr Campus and ways in which students either resisted or followed these rules. I eventually narrowed my focus to smoking on campus, after coming across a series of correspondences through student publications in regards to Student Government Association’s involvement in determining the social regulations of students’ lives. More specifically, these “correspondences” focused on campus drinking and smoking amongst students. In the Spring of 1944, the Lantern, one of Bryn Mawr’s student literary magazines, issued an aggressive editorial calling upon the student’s radical abolition of the Student Government Association. Students who crafted this editorial were tired of staying “silent” when it came to rule breaking, writing that, “Rules are being broken. Those who find the rules unreasonable to maintain soon find that the risk of being caught is considerably reduced by discreet silence.” They claimed that Student’s obvious resistance to the rules was indicative of unfair policy and too-strict rules. Without restrictive policy governing their conduct, student would no longer have to remain silent or risk categorization as “rule-breakers.” 

Several responses to this editorial, published throughout the year in the Bryn Mawr College newspaper, seemed to imply general outrage to many of the claims asserted in the Lantern, which insisted on the generalization that the majority of the campus engaged in smoking, drinking, and made social conduct violations on a consistent, purposeful basis. The concern of several of these replies is that if rules are relaxed, even more students would openly engage in conduct that would be detrimental to the atmosphere and standards upheld by the college. One of these opinion articles published in the College News in 1944-02-09 insists that “If liquor where to be allowed in the halls, it would encourage many who do not ordinarily drink to cultivate the habit, and those who do drink, much more.” Another editorial was published on the 16th in response to the anger inspired by the proposal of the editorial claimed to have “compiled and destroyed a list of one hundred and eighty names of students whom we know to have broken…. One or more of the major rules of the college.” Their argument is that while this one hundred-eighty is a minority of the majority students, it is still a considerably large group of students whose needs must also be taken into consideration.

While these correspondences were interesting, I wanted to know what the larger effect they may have had on the campus. Later in the month of February that year, the College News published an advertisement for a mass meeting for Self-Government, which concerned many of the proposals initiated by the Lantern Editorial. While looking through the SGA resolutions in the couple years surrounding these publications, I noticed the significant change in smoking policy that occurred in the years of 1944-45. Each academic year, SGA released a small pamphlet that listed each regulation that had been decided, who was in charge and rules for how SGA was to be run (not unlike what we have now). Each pamphlet included a section for various rules about student conduct, including curfew, dress, smoking, drinking and chaperones.  In 1943-44, there is a map included in the book that designates where smoking is allowed on campus. The areas where it was allowed are shaded in gray. Most of the space around major campus buildings during the time, such as most dormitories and school buildings are smoke-free areas, except for a few shaded areas (the cloisters, the front steps of Taylor). The end of campus that now contains the gym, Park science building, and Cambrian row are all shaded areas in which smoking was allowed. However, the pamphlet of 1944-45 expanded the areas in which smoking was allowed to include all outside campus areas, “…on the reservation that if at anytime the beauty and neatness of the campus is destroyed, the Administration or the Executive Board may limit the smoking area.”

What I find similar to our policies today and throughout Bryn Mawr’s history was a primary focus on neatness and visibly appropriate behavior over students’ actual choices. The paramount concern seemed to be not that students’ were smoking but whether or not this smoking affected the visual landscape of the campus and student body itself. Another earlier College Newspaper, published in 1943-05-01, contained a short blurb reinforcing rules about smoking policy from the Student Government Association. The purpose of the blurb was to remind students that smoking is not allowed within the Taylor Corridor and only shaded areas on Bryn Mawr’s Campus. Again, the “neatness” of the campus is reinforced: “… had they been kept neat, smoking could have been extended to the whole campus.” The main reasoning that is given here for students’ being unable to smoke in Taylor and other buildings was the dangers of fire, “…since Bryn Mawr was not built with an eye for prevention.” However, it is also mentioned that professors are allowed to smoke in Taylor. This allowance for professors seems contradictory to the reasons why smoking is prohibited for students, which is stated as a fire prevention method. This indicates that more likely, the issue might have been the visibility of students who can be seen smoking in the Corridors of Taylor. While drinking was originally forbidden and required serious penalty on Campus according to the SGA resolutions during this same time, later the language took an interesting turn. In the 1958-59 pamphlet the rules stated, “The association does not condone any conduct which indicates that a student has been drinking. No fermented beverages are allowed on campus. Offenses will be severely dealt with.” While the Student Government continued to maintain that alcohol was not allowed on campus, the word choice shifted the focus of what a punishable offense was, from merely having alcohol and its’ usage to students’ “conduct.” Seemingly, the more egregious error was not the drinking itself, but in behavior which “indicated” a students’ intoxication. Another document from 1985, which consists of Bryn Mawr drug policy, again reinforces concern for conduct and behavior. Seemingly, the most primary concern is not in the actual usage of something but in how it is executed, if it is determined that the student’s behavior is offensive, than it becomes a problem. I took a look at Bryn Mawr’s current Alcohol and Drug Policy and found similar concerns apparent in the careful word choice, with an additional focus on safety of the students. Instead of specifically prohibiting students from alcohol consumption, the first and foremost bullet point is a reminder to the students of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Another bullet point states stressing “moderation, safety and individual accountability for those who chose to drink.” Finally it seems, the 1944 Lantern editorial’s demands for “individual responsibility” as the “the only cure” for restrictive policies have been met.

Interestingly, toward the end of the editorial it was proposed that “…the Wardens will give advice in moral questions and that hall presidents be assigned the duty of leading discussions to establish the regulations providing for comfort rather than restricting liberty in each hall.” This is closer to our dorm system today. We have presidents for each dorm that do lead discussion and voting on what the dorm policies will be for each floor. Originally, the purpose of the Hall presidents was not to help determine the rules but to reinforce the rules that were put into place by SGA. This indicates that while Bryn Mawr was one of the first places to institute Student Government with so much influence on College policy; not every student had equal voice in this Government. Today, the same conduct that was regulated by Bryn Mawr’s Student Government is in fact, as the Lantern suggested, decided upon by the community of a dorm led by each dorm’s president.  

It appeared that these publications had a significant change and effect on student thought, allowing for the subsequent relaxation in rules. While I originally felt that I was unable to directly and clearly connect the contention within the student body concerning smoking and the almost immediate changes to smoking rules, I felt that the connections were too coincidental to be accidental. Almost serendipitously, I came across an article published in 1944-05-17 Bryn Mawr College News titled, “Revolutionary Editorial in Lantern Starts Heated Controversy over Self-Gov Rules.” This article clearly linked the student publications to changes in the SGA. Among these changes was “Smoking anywhere on campus” which was lauded as the students “greatest joy in revised Self- Gov’t rules.” The article also linked the publications to other changes in the constitution, including abolishing many of the original regulations that required students to have permission for many of their different social endeavors. It was also cited as being the reason to which the Administration was forced to clarity it’s relationship to Student Government, an apparent question of many students during the heated discussions of their Government. Finally, in addition, it changed the participation of the student body. “It has brought, if nothing else, a realization to the undergraduates that they are ipso facto members of the Self-Government Association/and as such they can with sufficient support change its rules…. There is a definite consciousness of constructive participation in something that was before accepted with a shrug and a complaint.” The initial editorial and its responses were not only linked to the direct changes to Bryn Mawr’s Constitution, they were linked to a significant social change in the Student body. Students were reminded that the Government Association is one in which they can take action and foster change. Despite the anger and backlashed that the Lantern Editorial received from other student publications, it allowed for a significant change in thought that eventually was the catalyst in policy change regarding the Student Government Association.

I’m interesting in smoking on campus because I think it represents not only a space of resistance against larger social regulations and institutional authority but reveals a conflict within the student body. It highlights primary social tensions that exist, represented by students differing opinions of socially acceptable conduct. It reflects the dynamics present when negotiating change within a system, and the ways in which students have taken action to inflict that change. It shows the ways in which the Self-Government Association and Student body at Bryn Mawr are in constant amendment to better meet the needs of individual and collective members of the college.



Elizabeth's picture

Hello, there from the ESEM!

Hello! I'm a student in Anne's Ecological Imaginings ESEM. When I was trying to come up with something to write on Tuesday, December fourth, I saw, in the corner of Ecological Imagining's homepage, the title of this new blog post, and I thought that it sounded interesting. I had just read about smoking at Bryn Mawr in the book about Bryn Mawr, Offerings to Athena: 125 Years at Bryn Mawr. So, I was really excited to write about this, and I did. But when I went to comment on the post, I realized that it had been made on a different part of Serendip, for this class. Serendip seems like a little corner of the Internet, just for me and Ecological Imaginings, but it isn't, and I wish I could meet and comment on the posts of all the lovely Mawrters who are also on Serendip. But, since that is unlikely, I will just try to comment on this post.

When I first started to read your post, it reminded me of something that I'd read in Offerings to Athena: 125 Years at Bryn Mawr, so I went back and took a look! Smoking was actually banned at Bryn Mawr from 1897 until 1925, when SGA petitioned the president of Bryn Mawr (President Marion Edwards Park) to lift the ban. In this earlier example of the intermingling of rules on smoking with SGA and the Bryn Mawr administration, there are some interesting parallels to the issues that Sarah was talking about. I think the two really interesting things about the allowance of smoking are the reasons SGA and President Park gave for the change. SGA wanted it because they "found it increasingly impossible to enforce the rule against smoking,” (91) not that they thought that the ban was bad, but that it was hard to enforce. President Park cited the importance of public opinion, saying "A regulation prohibiting smoking can no longer depend on the authority of conscience and convention, which make up public opinion, and is no longer effective” (91). I understand that both of these statements could have very well been influenced by politics, that either or both SGA and President Park could have been saying these things only to accomplish their goals or not look silly. But even if they did not really mean what they were saying, both SGA and President Park were re-enforcing the importance of perception and Bryn Mawr's struggles with a strict code of conduct.

jccohen's picture

appearances and choices


Your initial interest in rules at Bryn Mawr and this more focused look at rules surrounding use of substances (smoking but also alcohol and drugs) get right to the question of the institution and individual agency.  Interestingly, these are mediated by the ambiguous and shifting structures of dorms and student government, and much as in any community setting these structures seem more or less responsive to the needs of various individuals at various points.  And of course you’re bringing us all of this via the college media, itself a complicated conduit that both shapes and narrates the perspectives of students and, by proxy, of some administrative oversight. 

In fact, your reflection on the role of the student publications becomes the heart of the research and the paper, as you move to the compelling set of connections by which the initial piece in the Lantern and the various responses to this seem to trigger a shift in institutional relations.  Would you agree with this, or am I stating it too strongly?  Also, I’m somewhat unclear about something you say early on about that editorial – “an aggressive editorial calling upon the student’s radical abolition of the Student Government Association” – that seems to me intriguing but also, as I say, not entirely clear in light of the later roll-out of implications for the role of the SGA on campus.

You begin your concluding paragraph: “I’m interesting in smoking on campus because I think it represents not only a space of resistance against larger social regulations and institutional authority but reveals a conflict within the student body.”  This is a great point, and one that crystallizes the narrative you’ve given us here as an instance of the complexity of student voices in institutional change.  Earlier in the paper you elaborate on the point that the institution seems more concerned with appearances, “on neatness and visibly appropriate behavior over students’ actual choices.”  I’m curious about whether you see the emergence and impact of students’ voices here as challenging this concern with what’s visible and moving the focus to one of choice--?


Hummingbird's picture

Your paper is really

Your paper is really interesting in light of something icouldn'tthinkofa... mentioned today in class – which was that she felt the 1968 SGA culture seemed much more hierarchical than it is today. She explained that SGA feels more united with the college campus, whereas her research (for her lovely tour!) suggested that in the '60s, students in SGA saw themselves or were seen as on a higher level than their peers. 

All, in all, I really appreciated the way you outlined the shift in school culture through smoking. It's so interesting to think of how Bryn Mawr's broader campus culture has shifted through its history – and I think, though many of us focused in on this through explorations of aspects of identity (class, race, religion, etc.), you've portrayed this shift through general social culture. Thank you!