We at Williams are privileged to go to an institution that trusts its students. From the Honor Code to the Junior Adviser (JA) system to a security force that prides itself more on its friendliness than its toughness, this school has set forth a number of progressive policies that inspire a high level of confidence in its students.
Each of these policies has demonstrated great success, n surprising considering the caliber of students who come here.
However, there is one policy to which this trust does not apply, one for which the successes of all the other policies no longer seem pertinent. That policy is the host policy, a measure which seems to signal the College’s need for a 21-year-old parental figure to monitor the drinking habits of students, almost all of whom are over the age of 18, and then hold that figure liable if one of those students gets caught for drinking while underage.
In theory, there is nothing wrong with having a host. A host can ensure that all students at a party are drinking responsibly and safely while also maintaining a general sense of order at the function. If the extent of the host’s duties was simply to keep a party under control to the best of his ability with no strings attached, there would be nothing wrong with the College’s host policy.
Where the College has erred, especially in light of changes to the new party policy, is in its transformation of the responsibilities of the host from that of a caretaker to that of a “parent” who is legally responsible for his “children’s” drinking.
The difference is that the parent in this situation is a 21-year-old host who is only a few years older than the “children” he is expected to supervise. Despite such a small age gap, that 21-year-old host somehow remains liable for whatever damages or problems those students individually ay cause.
The main problem with the College’s host policy is the unattainable level of perfection to which it holds the host. Even if the host supervises the party to the best of his ability, there will most likely be trying situations under which he would not be able to care for every irresponsible drinker or keep every underage drinker away from the keg.
If those students were somehow to get caught by the police for underage or irresponsible drinking, that host would be legally liable for their actions even though he performed his job to the best of his capabilities. If just one student at a 100-person party drinks irresponsibly or if just one student drinking at that party is underage, that host could be brought to court.
There are thus problems with the host policy from both a practical and philosophical standpoint.
At a practical level, the College is holding these hosts to an unattainable level of perfection, despite circumstances that clearly show why such perfection cannot be achieved.
Anyone at this College can attest to the fact that parties at Williams are big. It is not uncommon for large parties to involve over 50 people crowded into small rooms or suites.
Considering the dense volume of people at these parties, it is surely not inconceivable to think that a student who is underage or a student who drinks irresponsibly may be able to escape the eyes of a handful of hosts working frantically to restore order to a party.
Furthermore, the College must look at the hosts and what type of position hosts are put in. For the level of perfection they must maintain, one might expect hosts to be experienced professionals in the field of law enforcement.
However, this is not the case, for an hourlong host training course hardly seems like enough preparation.
While the training course is most likely informative and useful, surely more coursework, not to mention experience, is needed by these hosts before they can be expected to live up to the high standards the College has set for them.
The College seems to have forgotten the ages of many of these hosts. They are not much older than most of the students they are expected to “parent.” In many cases, they were the “children” just a few months before.
Likewise, they too are trying to relax after a long week of work. Under such circumstances, it is not too far-fetched to assume that these hosts would be in a precarious situation when trying to supervise the drinking habits of peers so similar to them.
Leaving all practicality aside, however, we can also see the policy errs most deeply in how it treats the philosophical question: whether a host is liable for the actions of another person with whom he has no connection. From the looks of it, the College would answer that question with a very affirmative “yes.”
When underage freshmen choose to drink, they are doing so based on their individual feelings and not those of a 21-year-old host. When we go to College, we go as adults who are expected to make decisions for ourselves, but also suffer whatever consequences may come about as a result of those decisions.
The person who makes the adult decision to drink while under the age of 21 knows that this action is illegal and could lead to jail. If he, as an adult, decides to drink anyway, he must be prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions on his own.
Granted, the 21-year old limit may be unfair, a question myself and others discussed a few weeks ago, but the law is the law. If a student decides to break the law, he must be held accountable as an adult for his actions.
Therefore, since drinking is a decision made entirely by an individual who knows the law, it is completely wrong of the College to involve anyone other than the individual in question.
However, the College seems to have missed that point, and is instead making the host, who most likely doesn’t know every freshman or sophomore at his party, liable for another adult’s actions.
In fact, this situation is almost synonymous to the College holding a JA legally responsible for vandalism if one of his freshmen (perhaps in a drunken stupor) trashes his entry’s common room. No one would side with the College in that case and the same should be true with the College’s misguided host policy.
There is no doubt that the College’s host policy represents a major departure from the normally progressive policies this College has instituted in the past. In fact, the College, through this type of host policy, may be engendering more alcohol-related problems rather than less. Because being a host carries such an enormous legal liability, there are understandably very few people generous enough to become hosts.
It is no wonder that many of the parties that could have been official ones may now become unofficial due to the dearth of hosts. That, of course, would be a huge step in the wrong direction since the hosts and security guards who create a “safe” environment for drinking would be taken away.
If the College is to solve the problem and return to its progressivism, it must change the host policy so that hosts (like JAs) are stripped away of any legal liability or responsibility they may carry. Hosts should still be required at parties, but only in a caretaker role where their biggest sacrifice will involve their loss of a Saturday night, not a permanent mark on their records.