Changes to our Drinking Policy: The Ground Reality
Issue   |   Wed, 10/17/2012 - 11:35

Dean of Students Charri Boykin-East and President “Biddy” Martin were very kind to come to one of our weekly AAS meetings a few weeks ago, making themselves available to the student body and answering any questions we might have. When it came my turn to ask, I chose a question that’s been on the minds of many Amherst students since the semester started: the salient changes to the College’s enforcement of its Alcohol Policy. Dean Boykin-East replied without hesitation: “There’s no change to the Alcohol Policy at all.”

This is a line we’ve heard over and over again during the past few months, but one which doesn’t match up with the facts that we all see. Students are more afraid than ever of getting caught drinking, and whether this is exaggerated or not, something has changed. Each weekend I hear new rumors of crackdowns and arrests, most of which are probably not true but are probably based in some grain of fact. I myself feel compelled to shut the window when I sit down for a light drink, on the off-chance a police cruiser drives by as I sip. Another student, Dan Pastan ’13, tried to explain to the Dean how our own anecdotal experiences don’t match what the College is telling us. Yet whenever we articulate this feeling to key members of the College administration, they tell us there’s no change at all.

Yes, this we know. The policy itself hasn’t changed; it’s as blunt as ever. “A person must be 21 years of age to purchase or be served alcohol.” What has changed is enforcement of the policy. Both Dan and I have talked to campus police officers, and they told us that their enforcement policy has indeed changed. When I first arrived at the College two years ago, I soon learned about an unspoken agreement between the Campus Police and the campus partiers: as long as there’s no complaint, there’s no problem. The police would break up a party if it was too noisy and it bothered anyone trying to get to sleep. An imperfect policy to be sure, but better than what we have now.

This year our alcohol policy has become: as long as you keep your window closed, there’s no problem. As long as you keep it out of the common rooms, there’s no problem. As long as you don’t play that insidious beer pong, there’s no problem. I wonder how the police operating under this year’s policy would have reacted to my sub-free residents last year, who enjoyed playing water pong in the common room on the weekends.

The consequences of this policy are obvious enough to the people they affect. When we can’t drink in the common room, we do it in our cramped dorm rooms. When we can’t play drinking games, we line up shots. And when we have to hide, no one knows when we take it too far. The administration may well see student hospitalization rates go down as a result of this policy, but it won’t be because students are drinking any less.

In fact, hospitalization rates at Harvard and Yale are skyrocketing after they implemented their progressive “amnesty” policies, which acknowledges alcohol consumption and, rather than punishing it, encourages healthy practices. A Harvard representative told The Daily Beast in 2010 that “as the amnesty policy has been more widely communicated to students, one might expect a subsequent rise in alcohol-related admissions not because students are drinking more dangerously, but rather because they are being better bystanders, seeking medical care for friends who may have had too much to drink.”

This seems like an altogether more sane and practical approach to me. College students will drink no matter what; it’s something embedded in American culture and in young adult culture more generally. Rather than shutting the parties down, we should open them up; rather than trying to force students not to drink at all, we should encourage them to drink with health and respect in mind..

My ideal party looks like this: we have a large, open space – perhaps the O’Connor Commons, perhaps the Marsh Ballroom, maybe even outdoors now that the threat of EEE has gone. Students are free to drink through the evening. They don’t need to down eight shots in their dorm rooms before showing up to ensure the buzz will last. Every now and then, campus police officers stroll through – not to shut the party down, but to make sure that the party is safe. They chat with students, as they often did before their presence marked certain doom. A few students will play pong off to one side, drinking maybe two beers over the course of their 20-minute game. And if anyone does get sick, or if anyone’s safety (physical or otherwise) is at risk, there are plenty of bystanders nearby to step in.

We can’t move in this direction until the administration examines the reality on the ground. You will not stop college students from drinking illegally. The best you can do is protect them.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 14:33

Spot on, every weekend it's "HEY EVERYBODY FINISH YOUR DRINKS" or "CHUG QUICK, WE'RE LEAVIN!" because nobody wants to drink outside. And now if you're 21 you're also automatically responsible for every under-21 kid in the room? This year one officer told me to give up the beer I was holding, I showed her my ID cause I'm 21. Her response? "We can do this the easy way or the hard way, you choose. Either let it go or I'll I.D. every person in this room, and we both know they're not all 21." Touche, ma'am.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 16:06

Two weekends ago, a club sports team party that I was at got broken up. The result? Instead of drinking at a leisurely pace, people relocated and started throwing back shots in order to get drunk before they could get caught.

Good work, administration.

Smithie Alum (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 19:04

Wow... I was in the five colleges 2 years ago or so and Amherst always seemed to have great parties and a super lenient alcohol policy compared to Smith. Guess those glory days are over... :(

Will (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:02

This policy doesn't just encourage dangerous drinking habits but also forces people into drinking in crowded and dark Socials common rooms where cops will most likely not have the time to write everyone up.

Whatever happened to safer drinking spaces like Hamilton and the Triangle? I remember a time where I could pathetically flirt with girls while drinking casually instead of slugging back jungle juice and grinding for hours in a dark sweatbox. Cracking on down on casual common room drinking not only encourages binge drinking, but also discourages safe romantic pursuits. Instead, people are limited to trying their luck while overly intoxicated, horny, and when consent takes the form of a girl letting you rub your groin on her butt.

I'm so terrified of getting caught with booze that I pound drinks in my room alone before heading out for the night, because that is literally the only place I know cops won't get me.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:57

This is really silly. Why are we blaming the administration for our actions? "I had to drink shots tonight because I can't drink while out in public because the administration sucks." Seriously though, in the real world you'd get arrested and have to post bail. It is not the administration's responsibility to make sure we are able to party the way we want to. This is the same line of thinking that if girls get the HPV vaccine they will have more sex. This isn't true. We know what the rules are, and we should follow them. It's not that hard. We should all take some responsibility here and party like there is a tomorrow.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 13:27

No one is blaming the administration for "our actions". What's being said is that "our actions" are going to happen, and (blame aside) it is the responsibility of the college to appropriately respond to these actions. The college administration isn't going to enact widespread cultural and behavioral change by cracking down on drinking. That much is already evident this year, where we see drinking as prolific as ever, albeit more concealed. It is a more reasonable task to police public, unconcealed drinking than it is to attempt a paradigm shift through ineffective suppression.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 18:31

1) We're not blaming them for our actions, just the lack of choice provided.
2) How would it be the "administration's responsibility to make sure we are able party the way we want to?" Literally doesn't even make sense. You're implying by responsibility that they need to do something for us, but we don't want them to do anything. We want them to stop doing stuff.
3) Wow really? Regulating where people drink is not like girls with HPV vaccine having more sex. They're hiding the drinking that's going to happen anyway. Also this would be more equivalent to telling girls they can't have sex because if their parents catch them they get arrested. So then girls start only having sex in motel rooms instead of at home. Real safe.
4) Why would we follow the rules if they're terrible rules? If anything should change its the rules, not our behavior. Dumb.
5) Everybody can take full responsibility for themselves. People mess up? They have to deal with it. Boom, problem solved.

PS - I think this is you
Area Man On Personal Mission To Explain Why Universally Enjoyed Things Are Bad

an alum (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/19/2012 - 09:00

I encourage the writer and reader of this article to consider the following question: how can you know yourself better so you can learn to blow off steam without binge drinking? Rather than take getting wasted for granted, perhaps students as smart as those at Amherst should consider the value of regularly drinking themselves into oblivion rather than learning to cope with their own feelings and stress in ways that deepen, rather than delay, understanding of themselves.

Beef jerky (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/19/2012 - 19:30

Wishful thinking.

The law forbids underage drinking. There is little chance Amherst will allow such a public space where not only drinking is allowed, but underage drinking also (I assume this is what the article is implying?)

I also agree with the above alum. We need to "consider the value of regularly drinking themselves into oblivion rather than learning to cope with their own feelings and stress in ways that deepen, rather than delay, understanding of themselves"

Hahahaha, sure, blame the American culture. Blame the young adult culture. "You will not stop college students from drinking illegally." I don't understand such drinking culture. What is the real reasoning? There is a culture for victim blaming. Do you follow that too? There are lots of culture out there. You choose to indulge in drinking. This is what makes Amherst more of a bubble. You expect leniency from campus police. You think that if you f* up, you can have a second chance. Maybe you should have a second chance. How about f* up for only freshmen year? How about four years? When will you learn?

Remember that argument for the pig roasting t-shirt? "Boys will be boys" I can see this sentiment in your article too.

Second chances don't come free. Learn your lessons early on. Maybe that's a good first step.

You're free to do whatever pleases you.
Exploring things you'd never dared,
Cause you don't care careful what you wish for.

Beef jerky (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/19/2012 - 19:36

it's sad to see people need to get drunk to have fun. I mean, grind when you're sober. How bad can it be?

Beef jerky (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/19/2012 - 20:01

If binge drinking delays your problems and reduces your stress, then do it.

But keystone light is not a good start to appreciate alcohol though. Ever thought of AAS funding for wine or beer tasting? Don't just have senior night. Have freshmen night, sophomore night too somewhere downtown. That's probably more feasible than chuck pratt drinking convention.

Get real (not verified) says:
Sun, 10/21/2012 - 20:29

"What's being said is that "our actions" are going to happen, and (blame aside) it is the responsibility of the college to appropriately respond to these actions."

Suggesting that Amherst ought to respond to the reality of the matter (i.e., students will drink regardless) instead of uphold the law presupposes that some laws are okay to break. This implication is far from rational. Just because more students are breaking the law than abiding by it does not justify the College’s disregard for the law. How students as individuals respond to the law is their prerogative; how Amherst as an institution of higher education responds to the law, on the other hand, is not so open to discussion.

"The college administration isn't going to enact widespread cultural and behavioral change by cracking down on drinking. That much is already evident this year, where we see drinking as prolific as ever, albeit more concealed. It is a more reasonable task to police public, unconcealed drinking than it is to attempt a paradigm shift through ineffective suppression."

Just because it may be more convenient and easy for the College to tolerate underage drinking than to punish it doesn't mean that the former is, as you suggest, "more reasonable." When it comes to the law, college should be no different from the real world--you know, that place in which you'll be spending the rest of your days. If you get punished for underage drinking outside of Amherst, the same should happen here. Wake up and join the real world where everyone reaps the consequences of their actions.

Noah (not verified) says:
Tue, 10/23/2012 - 14:32

I'm not indicting or sanctioning any sort of behavior in this article; that's not the point. What I'm doing is explaining why a concrete policy change implemented by certain people is not working, and what sort of policy would work. So no, I'm not "blaming" American culture, I'm simply stating what American culture is.

In regards to "needing" alcohol to have a good time, I don't need alcohol. I do like it, though. I don't need chewing gum either, but I still chew it because I like it.

In regards to legality, do you seriously believe that everything which is illegal is wrong? The law is constantly changing and evolving. Did a 20-year-old drinking a beer suddenly become wrong in 1984? Amherst, as an institution and a community, should focus on maintaining its values and protecting its students, not enforcing the law.

And @"an alum," did you even read my article? I never said binge drinking was a good thing, and I never said that I like binge drinking. Binge drinking is in fact a very bad, very unhealthy thing. That's the ENTIRE POINT of my article. The recent strict enforcement of the drinking policy has encouraged students to binge drink rather than to drink healthily.

an alum (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/09/2012 - 23:07

Thanks for the response. Yes, I read your article, even. I do appreciate your main concerns, that students are drinking in excess rapidly in advance so that they can stay buzzed in public places where they would get in trouble if seen drinking. That certainly is "binge" drinking. But perhaps the goal, to be "buzzed" (i.e., drunk) for the whole evening is the root of the problem. I just can't buy your argument that the administration "has encouraged" students to binge drink. No. Some students are determined to get drunk, and that is why they do it. I expect you and I wouldn't agree on what drinking "healthily" actually means. But I think you are avoiding the main issue, which is that you are advocating for the college to allow illegal underage drinking in its common areas.

It's sweet to think that the college administration is there to protect students. And, certainly those in the administration do much to do just that. But more pressingly, they have to protect students not only from harming themselves or from breaking the law, they have to deal with the consequences when students harm one another, and break shit.

I have sympathy for your argument that the college is not, in fact, law enforcement. However, the reality is that if the college does not demonstrate that it is making best efforts to follow the law, it will be held liable when the law is broken (and when people get hurt -- which they do). Probably by someone's parents, which if you think about it, is pretty ironic.

Unfortunately, we may not always be able to escape the consequences of ignoring laws that we feel are unjust. You have the option for advocating for changes in the law, as have others. Drinking ages were raised in the 1980s in response to a powerful movement to prevent deaths caused by young, intoxicated drivers. And it really only takes a few drinks to become, in so many different ways, a potential hazard to one's self or others, and not only when behind the wheel of a car.

So, what you are asking is for the college to take responsibility for student behavior when students break the law. What I'm suggesting is that students take responsibility for their own behavior. An additional point: I also suggest that students take responsibility for knowing the law, its history, and their own and the college's obligations under the law.

But the main point of my post was to suggest that students who regularly get drunk think about why they do it. I would advocate that the college do much more to encourage conversation and education about alcohol use.

Get real (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 00:24

I do not suggest in my previous comment that "everything which is illegal is wrong." Yes, the law is constantly changing and evolving. Sure, there may be some "wrong" laws. But whether the law against underage drinking is right or wrong, it is still the law today--enacted for the people, by the people. So unless a student intends to go down the "civil disobedience" route, there's no excuse. Also, going down that route is tricky. The idea behind civil disobedience is two-fold: (a) the law at hand is "wrong," hence its breakage; (b) as a result, it should be rewritten. The former without the latter is futile. Don't just drink while underage because you disagree with the law; that's not enough. Make an *active* attempt to reform it. After all, that's the basis of what it means to have a democracy.

You say that Amherst should focus on maintaining its values and protecting its students, rather than on enforcing the law. But, is not one of Amherst's (and, quite frankly, any other institution's) values to produce good citizens who contribute constructively to society? And is not one characteristic of a good citizen a law-abiding one? I don't argue that Amherst should enforce the law because of any notion that underage drinking is "wrong." Rather, I argue that it should enforce the law because doing so instills in students a respect for the law, a very key value.

Beef jerky (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 14:46

Partial reply to Noah 's response first -

I agree that the age limit for drinking is not the wisest law. It probably encourages underage drinking rather than diminishes it. But I also agree with "Get real". Amherst College needs to enforce laws as real life does.

In some sense, an elite education produces successful (whatever that means) students because it provides room to make mistakes and learn from them. It gives second chances. I am grateful for that.

But this is not how the real world functions. We have already seen that rapists get away without heavy price tags.

It is tough to draw the fine line as in what mistakes should be tolerated, what should not, or how many second chance a person should get, etc.

It is sad to recognize the fact that irresponsible drinking will occur anyway. But it is simply not feasible for an organization to allow underage drinking. In an ideal world, 19 year olds will act as an adult, with rights, responsibilities and duties granted by law. In our Amherst world, I hope something similar can occur.

In my case, I am able to appreciate alcohol more after I turned 21, because now I can happily sit in a bar, chatting with friends over a good mug of beer, rather than binging on poor quality alcohol.

What should the campus police policy be? Will loose drinking policy actually lower binge drinking or alcoholism? Your example in the article merely show that people drink the same amount, in the same irresponsible way. But their friends are able to send them to hospitals with less reservation. In Amherst, we can do the same, right? ACEMS is a confidential service right?

Or update me on Amherst drinking policy/practices with more details, Noah. I would love to know more before babbling in public.

Beef jerky (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 16:25
Beef jerky (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 15:01

Lolllll Noah,

"certain people"...way to be discreet. Trolololo

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 16:34

ACEMS is not 100% confidential

'12 (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 18:57

Just to clarify, during the years that I attended Amherst, the policy concerning ACEMS changed. As a freshman we were told that if you called ACEMS on yourself, you would not be sent to Dean's office. Something changed in those 4 years and ACEMS is no longer confidential. Noah is right to suggest that the College is not supporting safe drinking habits.