Alcohol and Other Drugs policy forum addresses controversy

Posted by Max Siegelbaum

Approximately 50 students and 10 administration board members met at 7 p.m. on Nov. 1 in Gannett Auditorium to discuss the highly contested revision of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy instated at the beginning of this semester.

Controversial changes to this policy include a "point system" and the "in the presence of" clause, which dictates that underage students in the presence of alcohol or other substances will be punished, regardless of whether or not they themselves are consuming them.

Don Hastings, director of Residential Life, discussed the creation and necessity of the policy. He reassured students "the policy has always been grounded in health, safety and the welfare of the student, but also under the constraints of New York State law."

Hastings said that in 2004, a litany of incidents required a new policy to be instated, including the hospitalization of 12 students on "Diva Night," a DVD player being thrown out of a window and the portrayal of the college on the Princeton Review as a drug addled mess.

Due to these events, the administration decided to reconsider the existing policy, resulting in the grid system. Offenses were divided into a grid, with the most serious infractions on the third tier, and the most benign on the first.

Hastings said he noticed a change two years ago, when the college began to suffer similar bouts of malicious drunken debauchery. Hastings referred to several hospitalizations, abuse of Campus Safety officers and staff and three DWI's that resulted in serious injury, two of which required helicopter evacuations.

Hastings said he believed at that point that the staff of Residential Life and several other administrative groups, including Health Promotions and the Student Assessment and Intervention Group, had no choice but to address the situation.

In order to formulate this new policy, the administration looked at the colleges in the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, comprised of Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, St. Lawrence University and Union College.

A prevalent topic of the Nov. 1 discussion was the highly debated "in the presence of" clause. As it now stands, the policy states that any underage student in the presence of alcohol more than once will be subject to parental notification and a $25 fine. The fines increase after repeat offenses and can eventually result in an Integrity Board hearing.

"We have always done [the ‘in the presence of' clause]. This is the first time it has been put in writing," said Hastings, adding that the Residential Life staff tries to put a student's history into perspective. "The first couple of [incidents], you get a pass." After repeat offenses, students will start to accrue points and face real consequences.

In a prior interview, Rochelle Calhoun, dean of student affairs, said she had heard a great amount of feedback from students on this clause. "I was really quite moved by the students who identified as non-drinkers, and really talked to me about the fact that they provided a kind of measure to the behavior, just because of their presence."

Several students presented questions and suggestions to Residential Life staff. William Moseley '12 brought up the discrepancy between the policy and the repeated emphasis on student safety. "I don't know how it makes this a safer campus," he said. "If students are afraid about getting in trouble around peers that are drinking, then how can we still have safety measures, like designated drivers?"

Hastings stressed the Amnesty Clause, which states that any student who contacts Campus Safety in an attempt to help another incapacitated student will face no consequences.

Laura Meli '12 recalled an incident in which she attempted to help a sick student the night of Moorebid Ball, but faced a late response time by Campus Safety officers, who, when they finally reached the student, turned her down because the girl she was attempting to help wasn't sick enough.

Another female student proposed the idea of "restorative measures, a way to participate in an event, like community service, that would reduce points."

The discussion ended with Thiviya Navaratnam '12 addressing the "Parental Notification" clause. "Sometimes parents don't always understand American culture," she said, stressing that notification might bring unwanted and unwarranted conflict at home. "We're adults and we need to be treated like adults."

Calhoun stressed the concern for student safety and responsibility and promised reconsideration of certain aspects of the policy. "The 'In the Presence of' will be delved into. Restorative measures will also be highly considered," she said.

"It's a challenge for us institutionally," she said in the interview on Oct. 26, "but I think what we're trying to create a balance around is absolutely adhering and working within the laws of the state of New York."

Several students were left unsatisfied by the responses from the staff and the student turnout. They expressed concern that these issues were highly opposed by the student body, yet only around 50 students attended the review.

"It seems like nothing was really accomplished," said one student, who wished to remain anonymous.

However, Chris Lord '12 and Sam Leibenhaut '12, organizers of the meeting and co-presidents of the Conflict Resolution Group, otherwise dubbed "Fight Club," felt that the meeting was successful in some degree.

"The goal was to give students a voice and be heard," said Lord, stressing the importance of establishing a dialogue with the administration.

"All we really want is for voices to be heard," said Leibenhaut, "and to motivate students," Lord added. The discussion about the policy will be ongoing, but a survey about issues concerning the campus and alcohol will be sent to the student body soon.

A formal session to revise the policy will take place in January. "The current plan has always been to implement, see how it goes and then in January make any significant revisions that we saw fit," Calhoun said. "But I'm open to the idea, and I think most of the group will be open to the idea that, after our conversation, there might be a uniform response to a change that needs to be made, and I think we would be open to making that judgment."

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