I used to think Williams was an enlightened institution. As a freshman I considered the administration a benign entity there to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself in the process of getting a first rate education. My JAs assured me that Security officers were my friends; indeed my own experience bore this out. During First Days, on our way back to the Freshman Quad from a row house party, my friends and I started making a colossal racket. We bumped into a Security guard, and she politely asked us to keep it down; after all, “we wouldn’t want to wake up the neighbors,” she said. We apologized. She smiled back telling us not to worry about it – to have a good time.
During Winter Study that same year my friends and I threw a birthday party for one of our entrymates in the basement common room of Williams C. There was plenty of alcohol. We were all having a great time, dancing and talking – and (gasp) drinking – when Security stopped by to say hello. They asked us to try and keep the noise down. Then, for the next hour or so, they stood outside the door, making sure the party didn’t get out of hand. Earlier that day I had received an e-mail from a friend at UVA, telling me that her RA had poured two handles worth of vodka down the sink, in accordance with her college’s alcohol policy. That night I was so thankful I went to Williams. I appreciated the trust our administration placed in the student body.
Imagine my surprise, then, when early this semester, freshmen began to tell me stories about Security that entirely departed from my own experience. One freshman told me Security came by and confiscated alcohol in her common room and in her refrigerator – a flagrant violation of the plain view clause. Last weekend at Garfield, a few people were written up for underage drinking and a mass underclassmen exodus ensued. What was going on? I never heard of any policy change, especially one so drastic.
I walked by the Freshman Quad last Saturday night and heard the eerie sound of silence. I can’t remember one Saturday night last year where the freshman quad was quiet. Impromptu parties sprang up regularly, not to mention planned entry socials and other gatherings, which consistently made the quad a lively place. Now nothing – the quad was dead silent. Where had all the freshmen gone? Apparently Security had become so intrusive that freshmen had to take their parties elsewhere. One told me Security walked in to her entry common room while she and her entrymates were watching a movie on a Thursday night – no alcohol here – just a few freshman making an apparently vain attempt to enjoy themselves.
I just finished re-reading the Record article “Security Initiates new policing program” (Oct.5). That title sends a chill down my spine. Security is initiating a “policing” policy. Never has Security been associated with the word “police.” Sure, their uniforms look mildly imposing – but police? I thought Security was here to ensure our safety, not invade our privacy. Director of Security Thorndike says that Security follows a “plain view” doctrine. Translation: if they see your liquor out in the open, they will confiscate it. Such a policy will have very dangerous consequences. Students will – and have already begun to – keep their alcohol consumption out of “plain view.” The policy will have the opposite of the intended effect. Students will drink quickly, in their bedrooms, with locked doors, so that Security doesn’t see, putting themselves at a higher risk of developing health problems, and leaving Security unable to assist. Moreover, as Security officers are increasingly perceived as de facto WPD officers, students will become more wary of approaching a Security officer for help. Whose interests does this new policy serve? Certainly not the students’; it puts their lives in jeopardy.
But, the most appalling aspect of this situation is not the substance of the policy changes. The blatant spin-doctoring on the part of Dean Murphy and Thorndike evident in the Record interview angers me even more. Trying to sell this drastic, intrusive, dangerous new policy to the student body under the guise of “crime prevention,” arguing this “policy benefits the college community,” is grossly disingenuous.
No one came to Williams to live in a police state. Thorndike claims it “was never our intention to be intrusive.” Is she kidding? Regularly entering student rooms and inspecting their contents is the definition of intrusive. Dean Murphy claims “there are many people who are unhappy, oppressed, harassed or disgusted by their living situation.” Where are these downtrodden masses? If so many people are “oppressed” then why does Williams continually sport a 98 percent freshman retention rate? People who come to Williams could transfer anywhere else in the country, why would they stay if they were so unhappy?
The administration needs to do some soul-searching. Regardless of whatever policies or initiatives Security and the Dean’s Office concoct, students will continue to drink alcohol in violation of federal law. Williams needs to decide whether the safety and privacy of its students is important. What does the administration want us to do, listen to the Free Press and fight for freedom of association? I came to Williams, in part, because it lacked fraternities. I thought an inclusive social scene was far superior to an elitist Greek system. But if the College continues to deal with underage drinking in this righteous, invasive, dangerous manner, then maybe free association is the only answer. I hope that’s not the case.