Redirecting our alcohol policy

I will be the first person to tell you that most college students are about the furthest from healthy when it comes to drinking habits (see Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Binge Drinking if this comes as a surprise). Hopefully my peers won’t hate me for saying this, but the drinking culture on most campuses across the nation is pretty stupid. Unfortunately, it is a lot harder to change the culture of an entire campus than it is to change the way the College deals with these habits.

This campus is wet like Kobe Bryant in crunch time. And just like everyone knows Kobe can drain threes, everyone is aware this campus is a regular swamp on the weekends. It feels, however, as if the college has arrived at some sort of frustrating equilibrium where neither students nor Campus Safety and Security are especially pleased with the policy about alcohol, but nothing is changing. Security is fighting a losing battle against underage drinking by pouring out Keystone after Keystone and writing students up for casually playing Beirut while other students continue to drink irresponsibly and get hospitalized. Instead of trying to put a stop to beer drinking, energy should be directed toward fostering safer drinking habits.

Last weekend illustrated a quintessential example of this broken system. Security rolled through Sage at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Surprise: freshmen were drinking. Security wrote up a few students and poured beer out. This is the point when the trouble usually starts. With not a drop of beer left, students resort to taking shots of hard alcohol in a dorm room. This is not speculation. I have witnessed this exact scenario unfold, as have many others.

In defense of Security, they are in a difficult situation. The student handbook clearly states that in accordance with Massachusetts State Law, it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to buy, possess or consume alcohol. On the other hand, we are college students. College students are going to drink. This is a fact, and it will not change. What can be altered is the attitude that Security has toward underage drinking. There are other schools in the nation that have reasonably good solutions to this problem.

The Junior Advisors (JAs) facilitated some alcohol education during First Days, and the message was pretty basic: Drinking hard alcohol is dangerous and intolerable, so please drink beer if you are going to drink at all. Additionally, they suggested that if we see someone who appears to be in trouble, we should contact Security and not worry about the repercussions. I think that students are generally responsible in situations of this nature; friends help each other out, and a visibly drunk stranger in Snack Bar will not be ignored. The College is definitely making an effort to encourage responsible drinking.

Still, students get hospitalized too regularly, and I seriously question the effect that pouring out beer has on reducing the rate of hospitalizations. The fact remains that students are going to be drinking whether or not they have beer. Grinnell in Grinnell, Iowa, is an example of a school with a more sensible policy regarding alcohol. They have what is referred to as a “harm reduction” policy that involves a wealth of educational resources for freshmen about how to drink safely, a clear message about the expectation that students help others in potentially dangerous situations, and above all, they are adamant that students seek help from the school as needed. Their student handbook also makes it clear that alcohol is illegal. They also have Student Assistants, something between JAs and Baxter Fellows, who are prepared to help out as needed, but are not responsible for getting students to behave. This is all very similar to Williams, with the exception that students do not get penalized for being caught drinking in their dorms.

Students definitely resent Security when they seem to do things for the sole purpose of getting students in trouble. In fact, I think it would be terrific for Security to walk through dorms and check in. If they find students abusing alcohol (aggressively funneling comes to mind), it would be fair to pour out the beer and take names. But if they find a party with a group of students dancing, it is difficult to justify pouring out a case of beer. I think I echo the general sentiment of my peers in saying that I feel no safer after Security has taken beer because the likelihood that students begin drinking hard alcohol increases dramatically. It seems that at the margins, allowing more beer consumption in favor of less liquor consumption is an optimal situation.

Matt Rock ’16 is from Edina, Minn. He lives in Williams Hall.

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