Health center reform harms

As incoming freshmen this year, my class received a barrage of priceless information on how to prosper in our new home. Among these was a video on the dangers of excessive drinking, which focused on the Health Center as an important resource. The video especially emphasized the lack of negative consequences when going to the Health Center. Students were assured that there would be no action taken against them. Whether students were worried about security action or simply other students’ knowing about their visit, there would be no incentive to stay home instead of visiting the Health Center. Due to this excellent policy, many students do not resist being taken to the Health Center when they’ve drank too much. Placing safety over punishment has undoubtedly saved many students from serious danger.

However, a new policy at the Health Center jeopardizes the safety of the substantial portion of the student body that chooses to drink on occasion. Any student taken to the Health Center for excessive drinking is now required to revisit the Health Center for further alcohol evaluation and information. According to Laini Sporbert, a substance abuse counselor, this meeting “allows for an educational opportunity to help the student understand alcohol’s effects on the mind and body.” This sounds very reasonable on the surface, and I’m sure that the administrators behind this change had only the best intentions, but this policy could be disastrous and even have fatal results.

Alcohol evaluation and instruction is a serious deterrent to going to the Health Center. This requirement will cause some students who need care to stay in their dorm rooms. I struggle to name a less pleasant way to spend my time at Williams than examining my alcohol habits and being lectured on its proper use by someone at the Health Center. Ms. Sporbert asserts that this allows “the student to evaluate the evening after having some time to process it.” However, the student does not want to be reminded of and preached to about something that is obviously negative. No student starts drinking with the intention of going to the Health Center at the end of the night. Although students do not receive a strike, an evaluation of and lecture on drinking habits is decidedly a punishment. Though the College may not see it as such, I guarantee that most students do. This perceived punishment for attending the Health Center may keep students away and put them at risk.

I would also question the value and effectiveness of an alcohol evaluation and informational session for Williams students. We are not naïve kids drinking because we think it’s cool, unaware of the consequences. I’m confident that each student who makes the choice to drink does so with full knowledge of the risks involved. No Williams student will be shocked to learn that excessive drinking is bad for your health and that your demeanor can drastically change under the influence of alcohol. We’ve all sat in lectures about the dangers of alcohol throughout high school. This information will not be new to anyone. I don’t foresee a lot of success with this program.

Additionally, with repeat visits to the Health Center, Ms. Sporbert tells us that “if there is serious risk to the student’s health and/or safety, alcohol education or counseling may be required.” This is clearly a well-intentioned program. However, students who have visited previously may be especially reluctant to visit the Health Center due to the possibility of being forced to undergo a full round of counseling. These repeat visitors are very likely those students who may most need the type of care provided at the Health Center.

The College desperately needs to revisit this new policy. It sacrifices the safety of its students for a program of questionable value. Taking away precious hours, especially at a school that so fully exhausts each second of one’s day, deters Health Center visits. Additionally, no student wants to revisit a negative and embarrassing experience while being lectured. These two factors combine to discourage a visit that may keep a student from serious danger. Although those supporting this initiative undoubtedly have the students’ interests at mind, making a visit to the Health Center a negative and drawn-out experience will discourage future visits from the student who visited and his or her friends. The College should make Health Center visits free of any consequence for safety reasons and leave enforcement of alcohol policy in the apt hands of Security.