Translating discussion into action: The importance of affecting change in campus drinking culture and policy

We at the Record are excited about the development of a working group to discuss statistics garnered from last spring’s NESCAC survey of drinking culture, which has the potential to bring together threads of discussions that have been happening around campus. While we continue to look forward to seeing the specific numbers, we are hopeful that the results of the working group’s findings will serve as a springboard for this discussion on campus. The College has been fortunate to have avoided serious alcohol-related accidents thus far, but we must remember that a lack of such tragic incidents does not necessarily indicate a healthy campus drinking culture.

While we are excited to see what conversations and ideas this working group generates, we must keep in mind that regardless of its success, this group cannot solve, or even fully identify, the problems of alcohol on this campus on its own. Inherently, it will not be representative of the student body at large. Instead, as it determines its specific mission, the working group should seek to bring these issues into the forefront of campus consciousness with the goal of sparking student mobilization on alcohol-related issues.

Initiating conversations is a worthy goal that could serve as the impetus for changing the campus drinking culture; at the same time, students should not require statistics or a working group-led discussion in order to realize that serious issues exist in the campus drinking culture. As it is student-perpetuated, any change to campus drinking culture should come from the student body itself.

A particularly attractive conduit for this change in campus culture might be a student-led initiative, perhaps one along the lines of Men For Consent. With a model like this, the discussion on alcohol can be framed much like that on sexual assault. A peer-to-peer approach not only promotes the practice of student accountability, but also minimizes the punitive component that often makes these discussions uncomfortable when they come from the administration.

In such a format, initiatives such as poster campaigns or student-led forums might generate necessary conversation and awareness. Students need to take initiative in order to make change; if questions of alcohol culture on campus are to be successfully addressed, it will be done between peers, not between members of the administration and a limited number of students.

While we recognize that the goals of the working group are limited to initiating campus discussions on issues of alcohol, we also hope that this group, or perhaps its successor, will make recommendations for specific policy changes. This year has marked a notable increase in involvement from Campus Safety and Security in that officers have been disbanding more parties, both registered and unregistered. While we appreciate the sentiment behind this movement, we also recognize that fear of such punishment has pushed parties to become more clandestine. With more students drinking behind closed doors, we have to wonder if Security’s policies are having a positive impact. Especially in upperclassmen housing, where students don’t come home to a bustling common room or check in with Junior Advisors, drinking can become dangerous. Additionally, and perhaps most worrisome, students are worried about calling Security when a friend is in trouble due to drinking.

Conversations can certainly be productive, but policy changes are also going to be important in working hand-in-hand with student-driven initiatives to change campus culture. Therefore, it is our hope that the administration will work to erode the “anti-ambulance” barriers that prevent students from enlisting the help of Security in potentially dangerous situations. A system of “Sanctuary” or “Amnesty,” much like those in place at Harvard, Cornell and Yale, sets up a framework wherein a student calling in for help can secure punishment-free assistance. While it is of course crucial that accountability for students in medical distress and mandatory check-ins following any alcohol-related medical emergency remain in place, students worried about the health of a peer should not be discouraged from calling for help for fear of incurring disciplinary action.

Another option would be a “first responder” hotline that could send trained students to the scene to assess whether the situation constitutes a medical emergency. This might prompt a less fearful or anxiety-charged dynamic between students who need aid and staff who can provide it. While some may worry it will promote a “safety net” mentality when it comes to students providing one another with alcohol, it ensures the kind of reassurance that can save a student’s life.

We appreciate that Security and the administration are legally prohibited from promoting a healthy drinking culture among underage students. As students ourselves, we are better able to recognize the reality of underage drinking on college campuses and as such, to create a healthy drinking environment in which students make responsible choices about alcohol consumption. We at the Record feel strongly that loosening punitive measures for students that call Security for help in an emergency situation should be paired with turning a critical eye on the campus drinking culture. Engaging the student body in this campus-wide conversation will serve to minimize and reduce the incidence of unsafe or emergency alcohol-related incidents, and to help reshape a dangerous drinking culture on campus.