Beirut policy at Williams

Years from now, we may look back on our weekend nights spent throwing ping pong balls at cups just barely filled with cheap beer and realize, “we really weren’t as cool as we thought we were.” Beer pong, or “beirut,” isn’t the most complex or intellectually stimulating exercise that Williams students engage in, but many still pride themselves on their ability to put the beirut ball in the beirut cup. Rules vary from school to school and dorm to dorm, but the idea of the game is the same everywhere. Beer pong has become our generation’s legacy to the cheap beer party scene, and at times here on campus, seems to be the major battle grounds for our disputes with authority. Williams College has outlawed drinking games on campus, and since beer pong is so difficult to conceal, the college administration and security spend huge amounts of time finding, disciplining and talking (and talking. . ..) about beirut.

Ever since I first arrived on campus, this constant battle over beer pong always struck me as strange. I think that both students and college administration believe that one of the worst possible things that could happen to our community is a student becoming very ill or even dying from alcohol poisoning. On the whole, I think that the College does a fabulous job of making the safety of its students its top priority. Health Center staff and Security make it clear that they are here not to punish but to protect.

As a Junior Advisor in Williams D, I feel like I can attest that students on campus are highly concerned for the well-being of their peers and are generally willing to work with the College in watching out for alcohol poisoning or the consumption of dangerous amounts of alcohol. This is part of the reason that the beer pong battle has become so hard for me to understand. Out of the many ways that I have seen people drink on campus, I have no doubt that beer pong is one of the safest.

Compared to other styles of binge drinking, most notably “let’s see how many shots of vodka we can take in our locked room before going to the all-campus party,” beirut is tame. Beirut is most obviously safer than other forms of drinking because it involves beer, not hard liquor. I don’t think that any student or administrator would disagree that beer, because of the massive volumes that must be consumed in order to make someone ill, is much less of a threat to the safety of students than hard alcohol.

Furthermore, the average beer pong game involves lots of waiting. Because of the number of people that wait to participate in any game, it is hard to consume that much alcohol quickly. And, lastly, beer pong is also a self-limiting form of drinking. In order to stay “on the table” you have to win games, and in order to win games, you have to be sober enough to make beirut shots.

Why, then, does the College still spend so much time and energy policing beer pong? It seems that there are really only two possible solutions. Either the administration does not know enough about the game to know that it is safe, that they know that it is safe but think that it is so obvious and in the open that any form of inaction would seem like they were condoning the game and drinking itself.

If it is true that the administration just doesn’t know enough about the game, then they should learn about it. It would seem odd for a college administration to make a rule when they are blind to what they are regulating, but if this is the case it needs to be remedied.

More appalling however, would be a decision by the College to focus its policing energies on beer pong merely because it is easy to regulate. Williams may feel like it would be condoning drinking in inaction, but in practice regulating the game only means that more people will turn towards other kinds of drinking, which might be easier to conceal and, therefore, more dangerous.

Does shutting down beer pong parties really stop partygoers from drinking for the rest of the night? Absolutely not. If anything it only forces them to conceal what they do drink.

One complaint that I do understand is that beer pong is difficult on the College custodians who are forced to clean it up. I don’t think, however, that this has anything to do with the game itself but more with the people who play it. What if it were illegal to play beirut and not clean it up?

I understand that it would be difficult for the College to merely lift its ban on beer pong. But I do think it is also important that the Administration be aware of how its rules are applied in practice and what these bans really mean for Williams students and their safety here on campus.