The new nonsensical alcohol policy and you
Let’s say there is a nationwide spike in caffeine-related injuries and deaths so there is now a college wide ban on coffee. The staff of residential life even required your resident assistant to check your room throughout the semester to see if you had any coffee lying around. But getting up for those morning classes still felt like hell and you needed some kind of pick me up. So you hide a pack of Folgers in your pantry. And another student just died from a caffeine overdose. What does residential life do? Prohibit the vessel which carries coffee: coffee mugs!
“No Mr. RA, sir, this isn’t a coffee mug. No, I drink my tea out of here. No caffeine in lipton! No, sir. It’s a tea cup!”
Still, the drinking persists and we begin to wonder if college students drinking coffee and those who overdose on the substance is the same issue.
The fact is, in addition to coffee, college students drink alcohol. A lot. About $500 per year, according to the 12 Keys Rehab, is budgeted towards drinking alcohol. At Ithaca College, we are scholars surrounding ourselves in the liberal arts, and also young adults free from the outdated constraints of our parents. College is a time when many begin to experiment with our own limits when it comes to drinking alcohol.
Roughly 60 percent of college students ages 18 to 22 experimented with alcohol according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The survey also found that only 20 percent of those surveyed met the criteria to be labeled“alcohol dependent”. This trend has grown, not shrunk, with the presence of alcohol-prohibitive measures in institutions of higher education. Even so, Ithaca College’s Office Residential Life just included two new alcohol prevention measures: one that prohibits empty alcohol containers for residents under the legal drinking age and one which prohibits “high-risk” alcohol paraphernalia. The policy defines “high-risk alcohol paraphernalia” as “including but not limited to beer bongs, beer funnels, and any drinking games.”
Several members of the college’s Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Prevention Group, which consists of staff and administrative members from the Office of Residential Life and the Office of Judicial Affairs, stated the additions to the policy make their discouragement of underage drinking more consistent and allow RA’s to provide support for any resident who is on the brink of alcoholism. Whereas students were previously not prohibited from having empty bottles of alcohol before the additions, now RA’s are required to report the student if they are found in possession of “high-risk” paraphernalia in their room.
But it seems there are some things missing from this list of “high-risk” alcohol paraphernalia. For example, I wonder if RA’s are required to document the presence of Dasani Water bottles, pint glasses and shot glasses — all of which are commonly used for drinking and sold in the bookstore at campus center, making them readily accessible for students to use.
Mike Leary, assistant director of judicial affairs, said the policy will not prohibit shot glasses because they are sold as merchandise in the on-campus bookstore. Since shot glasses and pint glasses are some of the most common receptacle used for alcohol consumption, there is no consistency in the policy’s methods of discouraging drinking. Basically, the college discourages them on the principle of our safety, but will still happily take our money for it.
For Aaron Champagne, a resident assistant in the West Towers, it is the honest conversations about alcohol consumption, rather than the strict policy, which makes the biggest difference with his freshman residents.
“I think that the policy puts students in a more scared position because there’s that whole double standard where in college you’re supposed to be incredibly studious but also have that time to party,” Champagne said. “Do I think that it puts students in a scared place rather than a place where they can talk about this? Yeah.”
Champagne’s freshman in Towers might be scared, but upperclassmen, who have had more experience with drinking at college, range from indifferent to mildly annoyed because now they have more items they have to hide in preparation to their RA conducting room checks. I have spoken to several students who agree with me when I say that I am compelled not to end my days of drinking. Instead, I feel more compelled to stow away my alcohol for when my RA checks my room. This would be incredibly detrimental to my safety if I had an alcohol problem and needed help from the school’s counseling services.
Among the research AOD Prevention Group cited in crafting these policy additions was a study from the Harvard School of Public Health from 2008, which shows the average number of students who drink on dry campuses is lower than on colleges without policies against drinking. However, the study reports that students who abstain from drinking in college were less prone to drinking in high school.
The study reports that students who drank at dry campuses consumed about the same amount of alcohol as students who drank at college with no alcohol ban. Ithaca College serves as an exemplary case, since the study cites the northeast and north central region of the country as having the highest rates of drinking nationwide in their colleges.
Sure, alcohol bans discourage students from drinking, but only the ones who don’t have that much experience drinking alcohol.The goal of an alcohol policy should not be to lower the number of students who drink, but to reduce the numbers of students who are at risk of alcoholism or death. However, this study states that bans don’t have a significant effect on students who are drinking at this “high-risk” level.
Jake Agliata, regional director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) for the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic Region and International Regions, said he has seen similar trends in his research.
“The younger you are and the less experience you have with alcohol, the larger amount of quantities you’re going to drink in a shorter amount of time,” Agliata said. “I don’t see an avenue for these policies as providing a way to help students. All I see is another way for students to get in trouble.”
Additionally, Agliata said policies like the one recently instituted at the college have the potential of deterring students from seeking help for their drinking problem, as they now have more of an incentive to hide any traces of their habit. Although the goal of the policy makers was to craft a policy which allows for greater outreach and education, they threaten to harm the very same people they had hoped to help.
Sophomore Thomas Horgan, president of the Ithaca College SSDP chapter, said a sensible drug policy focuses public health and safety rather than punishment.
“The new alcohol policy seems to stray a bit from a focus on harm reduction, and expands the platform for potential judicial consequences,” Horgan said. “I’d love to see a medical amnesty policy that expands beyond just one ‘freebie’, and protects both the caller and the person being treated regardless of whether or not they’ve been in that situation before.”
Currently, the college’s medical amnesty or “Good Samaritan” policy allows students to call public safety for help for a friend without the threat of themselves or their friend undergoing punitive measures.
Where does this denial of college students drinking come from in the decision makers of our college? Several members of the residential life staff admit they have no illusions about the drinking habits of their residents.
Agliata said it has become the norm for colleges to enforce prohibitive measures because it has been done for so long and now it seems like “common sense.” It’s not as much a case of the administration or the residential life staff being old, out of touch fuddie-duddies; in order to remain consistent with Title IV, many private colleges and universities maintain strict alcohol and drug policies at the threat of losing government loans.
However, Title IV only requires colleges to implement alcohol prevention “programs” the wording of which Agliata said allows for schools to have more lenient drug and alcohol policies. In fact, Agliata said he has never seen a school lose money after enforcing more practical drug measures.
“I think it’s very naive of any administration of any college to think if they just tell students they’re going to get in trouble for it that they’re not going to do it,” Agliata said. “Some of the best schools that have the best drug policies out there have the same approach to all drugs that they have to alcohol which is, ‘We know you’re going to do it. Let’s reduce the harm associated with that use. Let’s approach this openly and honestly.’”
Policies that prohibit any presence of alcohol paraphernalia and empty alcohol containers won’t eradicate their presence in the residence halls any more than policy that prohibits the presence of alcohol itself. At Ithaca College, we don’t need more prohibitory policies that gets students in trouble and alienates them from their RA’s. The goals of the administration must be re-evaluated. The question of how can we reduce the number of students who drink must change to how can we reduce the number of students who are at risk of alcoholism or death.
Justin Henry is a third-year English student who doesn’t need authority to tell him what to do on the weekends. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.