All alcohol-related games will be prohibited on the Williams College campus, Jean Thorndike, director of security, announced at a recent meeting of the Housing Committee.
Thorndike said that if security officers observe students of any age engaging in drinking games – such as Beirut or beer pong – all paraphernalia relating to the game will be confiscated and the names of participating students will be taken down. Because drinking games are considered irresponsible drinking behavior, any student found to be engaging in such practices will be punished according to the College’s current graded sanction system.
“The details are really quite simple,” Thorndike said. “When officers find activity involving high-risk drinking, they will intervene.”
According to Thorndike, the policy was initiated by Security, Housing Services and the health center, which were concerned with the number of incidents during the past few years involving high-risk drinking games. The general purpose of the policy, Thorndike said, is to encourage students to drink responsibly.
Last year, several dormitories incurred thousands of dollars in damages due to the drunken behavior of students. Security and Housing found that many of the students had been participating in drinking games, especially beer pong. The official prohibition of such games was part of a general Security directive to maintain the quality and safety of student life, according to Thorndike.
The directive, however, does not signal a major shift in security practices, Thorndike said. Rather, it only states the basis of current behavior of security officers.
“In the past, not a great deal of attention was paid to this problem,” she said. “We’re just addressing it now. We will conduct business as usual and are not establishing any particular policy specifically directed at these issues. We’ll keep doing what we normally do.”
During the course of normal Security operations, if high-risk games are being played, students will face consequences. Officers will not actively prowl the campus and dormitories to confiscate objects that could be used in such games beforehand. “If a ping pong table is clearly set up to be used for ping pong, nothing will happen,” Thorndike said.
However, she acknowledged the fuzzy line that exists between the use of tables for normal activities and high-risk drinking games.
According to the health center and Security, the danger inherent in drinking games lies in the large quantities of alcohol participants are called on to consume in a short period of time. Since participants in these games are forced to drink quickly, such games are often hazardous to student health.
Many students were dismayed at the announcement because they feared a more intrusive security presence at the College.
Phil Swisher ’01, president of the Housing Committee, emphasized that all-campus parties organized by the committee are never planned to include high-risk alcoholic games. “We want the focus of the parties to be socializing, dancing and relaxing with friends, not drinking,” Swisher said. “From my experience, the most high-risk alcohol-related behavior tends to take place at private parties, not all-campus ones.”
Since security officers are not informed of private parties, there is a good chance that drinking games will be played. Of course, eliminating drinking games will not necessarily eliminate irresponsible drinking behavior.
Swisher expressed doubts on the new policy. “The danger with this policy is that it does not address the root problem, the overconsumption of alcohol,” he said.
Some students, upon learning that the policy was not a major change in the presence of Security at the College, supported the move.
“Most of the parties that have beer pong are unregistered parties,” said one Junior Advisor (JA), who wished to be quoted anonymously. “It’s important to discourage the drinking behavior that comes with beer games; a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time is irresponsible and dangerous.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the new policy is its impact on the relationship between Security and the student body. While Thorndike said she had a positive outlook, Swisher expressed regret about the impact on the students’ changing perceptions of security officers.
“I do think that it will make students more wary of Security’s presence, which is disappointing.” he said. “Students need to be able to feel comfortable around Security and see them as allies and resources for them to be the most effective, which this policy does not encourage.”
“Maintaining a good relationship with the students is one of our priorities,” Thorndike emphasized. “Students can also help maintain this relationship by making good choices, and by accepting the consequences if their decisions conflict with any of the college rules. This should be a partnership and is not intended to be intrusive or confrontational.”