First-year perspective: Alcohol policy could be harmful

The well-being of first-years is better protected when their JAs are present during alcohol consumption than when they are not. Unfortunately, the College’s recently formalized alcohol policies, which call for punitive measures against the JAs if first-years are caught drinking in front of them or if JAs are caught buying alcohol for their frosh, threaten this healthy environment. Even worse, these measures could serve to break down this relationship between JA and frosh, and may actually be detrimental to the health and safety of first-years.

For many people, college is the place where they begin to drink alcohol. It would make sense then that first-years who fall into this category would want to try alcohol for the first time in a safe and comfortable setting. JAs help to promote such an atmosphere. They ensure that we keep to relatively safe levels of alcohol-use, in addition to offering the added assurance that, in the entry, JAs (and fellow frosh) will be able to respond if something does go wrong.

This standard applies to those who drank regularly in high-school as well. Socializing in a comfortable setting helps students feel less obligated to drink to the point of losing the inhibitions that make new social settings awkward. Personally, I can attest to feeling the desire to skip the small talk and become fast friends right away. Both upper-classmen and first-years alike use drinking to facilitate such relationships. One has to remember that frosh have just left behind their best friends, families and mentors. Finding Williams replacements for such people as soon as possible is crucial. While we hope to avoid being sighted drunk by advisors at First Fridays, partying is one of the more common ways that students come to form friendships with other students. Yet the effects of such parties are not always good.

The only instances of extreme drunkenness (resulting in a night of praying to the porcelain god) that I have witnessed were when entry-mates returned from a long night out at some such party – never when they had spent the evening within the entry.

Our JAs have become our close friends and mentors, and that is part of the reason why I find the new alcohol policy regarding JAs disturbing. Not only would the regulations force the JAs from situations where they could be helpful or may be needed, but they also serve to aggravate the existing JA-frosh relationship. I think I can safely speak for all first-years when I say that we would feel horrible if our JAs got in trouble for being present while we were doing something illegal. Yet wouldn’t it be better to foster intra-entry parties than to have freshmen get their alcohol fixes by dipping into the vat of mystery punch at a party filled with upperclassmen?

I have never received alcohol from a JA, and I do realize that providing alcohol to minors is a serious legal offense. Yet it is a basic reality that our college is full of frosh who drink, and who will continue to drink no matter what risks they may have to take to do so. First-years having their JAs provide them with alcohol is just one route they can take, and there are many, many others. In fact, it seems to me almost comical that the school has decided to regulate such an unpopular means of obtaining alcohol. The few cases that there may be of JAs furnishing their underclassmen with alcohol are probably not the instances that lead to bad decisions like producing bio-cleanups.

Of course, the College cannot promote such policies, as U.S. law prevents it. Puritanical American alcohol regulations are undoubtedly at the base of many of the country’s alcohol problems, and there should be more of an effort to get our alcohol laws on par with those of the rest of the world. Unfortunately, such a change is probably not going to happen any time soon. While we are waiting, Williams needs to exercise its influence within the law, in the right ways.

The reality is, first-years do drink. The College needs to recognize both this fact, and the reality that the presence of JAs provides a safe environment for such consumption. Williams should be proud that the entry system fosters such a good connection between JAs and their frosh, and should not be enforcing policies that serve to break down this relationship, and that disallow the first-years from obtaining the support they deserve in all aspects of their life.

Katherine Tandler ’11 is from New York, N.Y. She lives in Sage E.

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