As Williams College Security and Williamstown Police Department Officers scurried through the freshman dorms in a systematic attempt to find alcohol Saturday night, many students were left wondering what was going on. There was no fire alarm, no loud music and no reason for concern, but there were cops everywhere. “Cocktail parties” were shut down, students were lectured, alcohol was disposed of, fines were imposed and then everything was back to normal. Are these the new ramifications of the newly implemented, permanent party policy?
One of the fundamental aspects of the new policy is that “the host of the party will remain liable for the actions of every person present at the party during the party and after the party.” This statement serves the purpose of providing pseudo-legal protection for the college by providing a scapegoat in the event that the police show up. Responsibility for checking IDs falls upon the students and does not rest with college Security. The plan, which is basically the same as the interim policy previously in effect, is legally of little worth for the college and places too much responsibility upon students.
The party policy is an attempt to provide the college and the security department with immunity from the law in alcohol-related manners. The college does not want another Agard incident, because it reflects poorly upon the entire Williams community. The police and security are merely doing their jobs, upholding the law and keeping students safe respectively. In fact, the new party policy can only be used by the college to show that they were “trying their best” to keep underage drinking at bay; legal action can not be defied by any piece of paper held by the administration.
What can be done to resolve this situation? Dean of the College Peter Murphy expressed earlier in the year his sympathies on the subject in his open letter to the campus, but the college is stuck between the law and its desire to provide a free and open campus to all students. The truth is there is no way for the college to have a legal party policy when two-thirds of the student body is underage. We see three options, none easy.
The first is simple in its naivete: lower the drinking age back to eighteen. Legislation would have to be passed, representatives lobbied and a huge public momentum would have to come together in order to achieve this goal. Anyone who has ever lost someone to a drunk underage driver would find this suggestion ludicrous and offensive.
The second is much easier: security must follow the lead of most major colleges in the nation and crack down on underage drinking. While risking the ire of the students, alumni and staff, this solution is both attainable and draconian.
The third is an uncomfortable middle ground: keep the current party policy, have security enforce the wearing of wristbands and in time, underage drinking (and reckless behavior as well) will decrease. Security has noted that in the past, the Williams party scene has over a number of years become less wild and crazy. In that sense, they have already done a good job of regulating inappropriate drinking behavior on campus. Changes in the party policy, clashes with the police and other incidents are perhaps small symptoms of a larger movement towards a quieter, less confrontational campus.