The entire Skidmore family is grieving over Michael’s death and Oban and Toby’s injuries at the hands of a drunk driver, and this includes alumni around the country. To paraphrase the Skidmore News’ recent editorial, “it could have been any of us.” We remember making the same treks off campus to the same houses; right down Clinton Street to Daniels Road, to Stables or Alpine. At least, those of us who attended Skidmore after the college changed its alcohol policy in 2005 remember. You see, this tragedy has been ten years in the making, and may require some contextualization that current students may not be equipped to provide. Because what happened to these students is just another avoidable accident attributable in part to Skidmore’s misguided alcohol policy.
In 2005, a Skidmore student was struck and killed by a police officer while walking home from a party on Route 50 on his twenty-first birthday. In my time at Skidmore this was considered one of the catalysts for Skidmore's turning the campus “dry” in 2006, that is, banning alcohol in all but upperclassmen housing.
Entering Skidmore in 2007 was a confusing experience for me, because of how little it resembled what I thought of, and most Americans probably think of, as a traditional college experience. Academically, it was the amazing, interdisciplinary liberal arts environment that you can read about in Skidmore’s marketing materials. Socially, it was like joining a congregation of the Disciples of Christ in the 1920s.
The backlash from the 2005 incident, and the many other incidents related in campus folklore of the pre-dry campus days, was so severe that being caught with so much as a can of beer anywhere on school property was punishable by a $50 fine, with steeply escalating punishments for repeat offenses thereafter. It was positively draconian. (A review of Skidmore’s “Alcohol and Other Drug” (“AOD”) policy today reveals that Skidmore has adopted a more flexible, risk-deterring policy, which is a step in the right direction).
In all my time at Skidmore the dry campus policy was an unpopular, and frequently debated and campaigned-against one. It was easy for the administration to dismiss students’ yelps about the policy as immature “Fight for Your Right to Party”-style advocacy, and our motivations may not have been completely pure. But there was something deeply troubling about the policy, as news stories and rumors percolated about depravity, injury, and death, all flowing from off campus partying.
There was a severe gang-beating perpetrated by Skidmore hockey players at an off campus apartment; stories of fellow students being subjected to hate crimes on Caroline Street by anti-gay bigots--and committing their own hate crimes against Saratogians as well; a story about a student being sexually assaulted in one of those creepy "Dad's Cabs." And of course, there was Alex Grant.
Grant was a first-year student at Boston College who was visiting a friend at Skidmore for the weekend. They went to an off campus house party, perhaps drinking too much there. At some point, Grant left the party and wandered off on the streets of Saratoga, apparently getting lost when the terrain abruptly turned rural (as it does around all four corners of the town). He was found dead in a stream two days later after a blizzard rolled in.
Let me hit you with a fact: you can’t stop college students from drinking. A certain number of them will always be driven to drink and to experiment with drugs and alcohol--that is just an inescapable aspect of American culture. You also can't completely avoid tragedies, like what happened to Michael, Oban, and Toby. But you can attempt to mitigate the harm of students' drinking; you can provide a safe environment in which students can experiment without fear of reprisal by the administration (partial kudos to Skidmore for the less regressive point system they have adopted). You can adopt a common sense policy that does not drive students into the wilderness of substance abuse, violence, and plain old dangerous situations—like walking on a dark country road late at night—that is the off-campus scene. In fact, it’s the college’s duty to provide its students with a safe environment.
In the college’s haste to clean up its act ten years ago, it acted on a knee-jerk impulse and made Skidmore’s campus a dry campus. As I said time and again in Skidmore News editorial board meetings over the years, the dry campus policy is a harmful, regressive strategy for dealing with underage drinking and its associated dangers. It has done nothing but shift the party scene off campus, which has had consequences that have reverberated through the years and culminated in the instant tragedy.
Time and again I have said, within the pages of the Skidmore News and without, that students who are so inclined will always find a way to have a good time and drink alcohol, and it is the college's responsibility to make sure that students have a safe place to do it. And luckily for Skidmore, there’s already a perfect place. I’m speaking, of course, of the once and future bar known as Falstaffs. It is a cozy, under-utilized campus asset, and opening it up for alcohol service will keep students on campus and safe.
But this must coupled with a near-complete relaxation of Skidmore’s AOD policy. Students need to be able to experiment with alcohol in the safety of their dorm rooms, with no adverse consequences for reporting possible medical emergencies or other harmful conduct.
So for all our sakes, and the safety of the Skidmore community, please, end the dry campus policy, and make Falstaff’s a bar.