The realities of security, the police & binge drinking

WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts – After a few weeks of travel, a short respite in Oxford and running the London Marathon, I decided to return to Williamstown and see some of the friends who soon will no longer be part of the privileged existence we know as Williams College. I arrived Wednesday afternoon, thoroughly jet lagged, to find that spring was in full swing, I have one of the worst picks in the housing draw and I only recognize about four people on campus. Other than that, things were strikingly similar. After settling in an open room (My thanks to Al, the custodian in Gladden), I decided to try to do some of the things I used to do last year. I went to the week’s College Council (CC) meeting.

For most of the time, things were business as usual. There were several funding requests, updates from student-faculty committees and the ever-present illusory issue of class size. Yet things moved on from there to a problem that I’ve escaped being abroad. Discussion began to arise about the relationship between students, Security, the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) and the latest incident of binge drinking.

Numerous members of council and others began to complain about the efforts being taken by Security and the WPD to curb underage drinking. There was talk of the walkthroughs and the increased presence of Security at parties. People lamented their loss of privacy and longed for the hands-off policy taken by the College just a few years ago.

As we reminisce about these good old days of carefree living, perhaps we should think about and take responsibility for how we got we are today. This is not the case of an arbitrary intrusion on our liberty. Instead, the increased presence of Security and the crackdown on underage drinking are a reasoned and rational response to, what for the College, is a dangerous and embarrassing situation.

As long as underage drinking does not result in injuries, crime and unwanted publicity, the College is able to turn a blind eye and this is exactly what happened for many years. Of course, even then, students at times drank too much, but the worst cases then would involve a night in the health center and an embarrassing story. Now it involves a stay in the hospital, a large medical bill and a great deal of pressure on the College. We must then first recognize that the College’s response is taken out of necessity and that this necessity is our own creation. Likewise, the alleviation of these conditions can only be brought about by our own action.

Now most students’ initial reaction to the idea of walkthroughs is a type of massive resistance. They argue that students have a right to privacy, that security officers cannot barge into our rooms “like members of the Gestapo.” There are two problems here. One, this strategy is fundamentally based on a flawed principle. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as students we do not have a right to privacy. No matter how much we’d like to argue about it, the College does have the right to enter our rooms without cause. More importantly though, this type of attitude is detrimental to an already strained relationship between the student body and Security. Telling Security what it can and cannot do will not encourage it to trust us as students when it comes to alcohol, and in the end trust is what this is all about. Walkthroughs occur because Security does not trust those underage to drink responsibly and from recent events they have good reason not to.

Instead, we as students should act to convince Security that we are perhaps worthy of that trust. This can come in the form of alcohol education programs for first-years, such as the proposed mandatory TIPS training, or perhaps other programs from CC. But, more importantly there must be a change in individual behavior if things are to return to how they were. It really is very simple. When we stop binge drinking and start acting like we deserve the privilege of drinking, then that privilege may be returned to us. If we want the college to treat us like we are responsible adults when it comes to alcohol, then first we must actually act like that’s what we are.