Fixing a culture of excess

Ah, the sights and sounds of campus. The mountains, the fall foliage, the drunk first-years staggering home and puking in the bushes. Yes, it’s freshman year for the Class of 2011. A time when a young student’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of – well, for some, it’s booze, booze, vomiting in inappropriate locations and booze. Everyone’s heard of the recent bio-cleanups and hospital visits. No one’s surprised. We’ve seen the ambulances outside the first-year dorms, and know too well the drunken revelry that takes place every weekend and sometimes even starts on Thursday and spills over into Sunday. It’s not hard to figure out: we need to tone down the drinking. It’s getting insane.

Let’s face it: first-years are getting crazier. Yes, upperclassmen are crazy, too, but when you’re away from home for the first time, your life takes on a peculiar form of craziness. With no parents to tell you what to do, you can stay up as late as you want and drink as much as you please. Later, the novelty wears off, but when you’re a frosh, you think it’s great. I know this because I used to be a crazy frosh. I drank, I went to the hospital and I drank more. I eventually got smart, and now I’m more likely to spend Saturday doing my homework than going to a party. (Lame, but true.) My situation was nobody’s fault but mine. No one forced me to do what I did. But I worry about this year’s first-years. They, too, are joining a community in which drinking is a huge part of college social life. I worry about alcohol abuse being the norm on this campus.

It’s the fault of the upperclassmen, too. Dean Merrill is right: JAs do need to stop buying alcohol for their frosh. How about older students doing more with their pre-frosh than taking them out and getting them drunk? The overdrinking that takes place gives new students the impression that it’s the norm here. And maybe, just maybe, having to step around vomit, urine and broken glass every weekend sends them the wrong message. You think?

Our college is getting a bad reputation, and we have only ourselves (or our binge-drinking friends) to blame. There has been mention of the incidents in at least one other college’s newspaper. This may be only the beginning. If we want to avoid Williams being on the national news for an alcohol-related death, we’ll have to think quickly. What can we do? There’s no easy answer, especially with a drinking culture that’s so well-integrated into campus life. Stricter fines will almost certainly not help; half of all students pay full tuition, and a few hundred dollars won’t make much of a dent in their wallets. Destroying property and making messes is a tricky situation, as students won’t generally report their friends. Community service for alcohol violations was proposed in an earlier op-ed, and I think that’s a good start. Having to spend your free time raking leaves or picking up trash can certainly lend the kind of perspective that fines can’t, and perhaps it would also give students more empathy for the custodial staff.

People have been saying for a long time that there’s bound to be an alcohol-related death on campus at some point. I hope it isn’t true, but it seems like every hospitalization brings us closer to it. It’s simply statistics. Near-deaths will eventually result in real deaths. Even if health weren’t an issue, destruction and messes certainly are. We need to cut this trend off at its root, and its root is people who spend their freshman year thinking that drinking like crazy every weekend is normal. It shouldn’t be normal, and it certainly shouldn’t be condoned – or worse, nurtured – by upperclassmen and JAs.

Partying is okay, but partying until you pass out is not. We need to draw that line with our first-years – in other words, to show them that getting wasted isn’t the Williams way of life. Or is it? If this year’s first-years continue to go through their college years unable to have fun without downing a whole keg every time they go out, then something’s got to change.

Andrew Triska ’11 is from Estacada, Ore. He lives in Lehman.

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