A recent spike in alcohol-related hospitalizations has resulted in a new set of University policies including bans on outdoor/porch drinking, freshmen being barred from Greek events and unannounced late night walk-throughs of Broad Street housing. These policies send one clear signal: we don’t trust our students. And the sad thing is that, like any prohibition, it undermines the trust and respect that is at the core of any healthy community.
In a close-knit, collegiate community like Colgate, the relationship students build with the faculty and deans should be based on trust, integrity and the honest exchange of information. This is true in the classroom as well as outside. These values are critical in any learning environment as well as in society as a whole. Yet, Colgate’s alcohol polices compromise the very nature of the community and its values. Perhaps our community needs to rethink the polices.
Here are some specific policy suggestions that could restore a sense of community while improving student safety.
1. Sign the Amethyst initiative. The Amethyst Initiative was started by former Middlebury President John McCardell and has been signed by 135 college presidents, including former Colgate President Rebecca Chop. By signing the initiative, President Herbst would be pledging “to support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age.” In addition, he would pledge to “invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.” Our new President’s hesitation to sign the initiative is puzzling as it simply calls for a public conversation about alcohol policies that already seem to be failing. By not signing the initiative, the administration sends a message that they are more concerned with mandates than dialogue, more concerned with liability than community. Their other policies this semester reflect that message.
2. Offer an amnesty program for students who report unsafe drinking. Under the current alcohol policy, students who take intoxicated friends to the hospital may face disciplinary action themselves. Students are asked to sacrifice the well-being and security of their friends because of a very real fear of repercussions. This is not the students’ fault. SGA launched the “Do the Right Thing” program yet, at the same time, the school’s alcohol policies increase the risk of doing the right thing. In effect, the University is sending it’s students a signal that assigning blame is more important than protecting fellow students.
A 2009 University of Virginia study found that 42 percent of private schools with a medical amnesty program thought it had helped reduce alcohol poisoning and that a majority thought it dramatically increased the percentage of students who seek help in an alcohol emergency. Colgate needs a formalized medical amnesty policy to guarantee the safety of students. Why is this even controversial?
3. Allow Kegs. The five-year old campus keg ban has failed in its objectives: ostensibly to curb student drinking and stop binge drinking. No policy is going to stop students from drinking and the keg ban is no exception. Instead, it leads students to make bad choices such as turning to hard alcohol, a far more dangerous option. With a keg ban, Broad Street is more inclined to serve mixed drinks because it is the most efficient way to serve alcohol even if it is far more difficult to regulate.
Beer consumption did not stop because of the ban. Students just drank from cans. Besides the obvious impact on the environment, the switch to cans took dispensing drinks, a natural regulatory function, out of the hands of the host. With kegs, students had to wait in line for someone to serve them a predetermined amount of beer. Now, cases are thrown on a table and people just grab what they want.
4. Make party registration realistic. Many students do not know that nearly every Broad Street party has been registered with Residential Life. A registered party requires the event to be “Bring your own alcohol” and requires that no more than 99 people attend. These requirements are unrealistic and both the students and Residential Life know it. As a result, both students and the administration engage in an inherently dishonest relationship. Colgate should trust the fraternities to dispense alcohol. Nobody wants anyone getting hurt, not just because students care about the safety of their friends, but because they know their fraternity is on the line if something goes wrong. Risk managers and sober members already voluntarily watch for excessive drinking. Most alcohol problems seem to come from quiet, private drinking that is forced underground by the unrealistic prohibition policies. When both parties are required to adhere to unrealistic rules, how are students and the administration supposed to honestly work together to make parties safer? The answer is they can’t.
5. Change the culture of Campus Safety. Building a relationship between students and Campus Safety is a critical part to creating a safer and more honest Colgate community. In a survey of 30 Greek upperclassmen, only three respondents knew the name of a current Campus Safety officer.This is unacceptable. Students are far more likely to change their behavior if they are dealing with someone they know and respect. How do you build this relationship? First, Campus Safety officers should not react to every violation with a “write up.” They should be instructed to tell students politely to turn their music down or clear out a room that is over capacity. The goal of keeping students safe is still accomplished without a “write up” and students don’t feel like they are being excessively policed. The New York City police emphasize “courtesy” and even have it painted on their cars. Why can’t campus officers deal with students in a spirit of civility and expect the same in return?
Second, the University and Campus Safety should communicate why a policy has been put in place. In the case of the Broad Street walk-throughs (permitting officers to enter houses unannounced between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.), Campus Safety never explained that the policy was being put in place or why. After numerous complaints, Campus Safety responded three days later saying it was for “safety and security.” While the intentions of this new policy have been debated (raising the issues of honesty, trust and respect, yet again), the fact that no member of the administration communicated this new policy makes it even worse.
Lastly, Campus Safety should sometimes play the role of a friend. By friend, I do not mean Campus Safety should be buying us drinks downtown (as one notorious officer was photographed doing with a freshman) but when it’s raining, offer a student a ride. Offer to help them carry a heavy package down the stairs. Treat them with the kind of respect and civility they have the right to expect themselves.
These policies will not eliminate unsafe drinking entirely but they will restore a critical and sadly lost sense of community. Honesty, trust and respect: that’s all we ask.