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2011 Fall Issue 2 (September 23, 2011)

New alcohol policy worries campus, deans respond

September 23, 2011
By Michael Alexander

Last week, Dean of Students Hudlin Wagner announced new changes to the official alcohol policy, causing a stir on campus. According to the e-mail, kegs and common containers of alcohol are no longer allowed at unregistered campus parties, and drinking games are now considered high-risk drinking-related activities.

The official policy loosely defines common containers by the examples of punch bowls, garbage cans, and inflatable pools. Hard alcohol at registered events must be served by a licensed third party vendor. Hard alcohol is permitted in private settings.
The policy’s initial lack of justification has caused confusion among students. Administrators recently clarified that federal law prompted the change.

The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires that institutions like Carleton that receive financial assistance under a federal program must implement a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees. Despite the law, Carleton has traditionally had a more liberal approach to the law than other Minnesota colleges.

Wagner also expressed concern for students’ safety. “The focus of the work we’ve done over the years… is to create a safer environment,” she said.

Although Carleton has alcohol-related incidents every year, Associate Dean of Students Cathy Carlson said that no particular recent incidents caused the policy change.

Concern about the Policy Changes

In response to the changes, many students have voiced their worries about the way the new policy will affect campus life.  Editors of the CLAP last week, for instance, vehemently encouraged students to continue their traditional partying ways in protest.

However, director of Residential Life Steve Wisener hoped the new rules would not drastically change campus culture. “Our goal is not to throw parties off campus,” he said.

Yet with Crack House and other off-campus party locations in place, the rules may encourage students to head off campus where kegs and drinking games are permissible. Such parties fall under the jurisdiction of the Northfield Social Host Ordinance, by which students can receive fines of $1000 and up to 90 days of jail for knowingly serving alcohol to minors.

Students who do venture off campus to drink may risk such run-ins with police.  Though the College must respect the new city policy, campus staff have expressed their hopes to prevent student run-ins with the police. In an interview with The Carl last spring, for instance, Security officer Jim Bushey said that Carleton aims to graduate all its students without having police records.

Students holding on-campus parties in violation of the new policy may be deterred from contacting Security or RAs when dangerous situations arise. Such “underground” parties could ultimately detract from the safety of Carleton, contradicting the increased safety sought by the new policy.

Carlson clarified the Deans’ position on the policy, emphasizing that safety is always the priority.  “If the question is, ‘should I call someone?’ the answer is always yes,” she said.

Realistically Speaking…

Administrators emphasized that the new restrictions on alcohol consumption are not accompanied by new consequences for violating the policy.

Regarding the new policy, Wisener said, “I don’t think there’s going to be any different follow-up than there has been in the past.”

The official policy posted online states that Security may confiscate kegs or taps found in unapproved locations. Perhaps excessively, the new policy also authorizes Security to confiscate cups, presumably to recycle them.

Sunderland said that Carleton will permit kegs at approved on-campus venues under the condition that they are operated by a licensed third party vendor. Yet only seven venues exist for parties of more than 12 people without restrictions on who registers the party. Four of these venues are outdoors and therefore unusable for most of the school year. The number of indoor, approved on-campus venues has shrunk to three due to student vandalism in recent years.

Wisener said that Residential Assistants (RAs) have been trained for the new policy. Still, he added that “from the RA perspective, nothing has changed…We’re not out looking for policy violations.”

Associate Dean of Students Julie Thornton noted that excessive people or noise is what typically brings RAs to parties. “I don’t think this will have a major impact. It’s never the alcohol that brings us to the event.”

Regulation 14 of the revised policy elevates drinking games to the status of high-risk drinking activities, shared by beer bongs, drinking-themed parties, and progressives. According to Wagner, progressives are not as common as they were a decade ago, when the College began to prohibit them, but they do still exist.

Rotblatt

Students have expressed concern for the policy’s effect on campus culture, particularly with respect to Rotblatt, Carleton’s spring-term campus-wide softball game that commemorates the school’s anniversary with a day of kegs behind the Rec Center.

Nadine Sunderland, Assistant Director of Student Activities, said that the College is invested in preserving its traditions, but changes to the event are on the way.

“These last two years we’ve met with the Rotblatt committee to make it a safe community event,” she said. “We’re excited to work with them [again].”

In accordance with the Social Host Ordinance, police arrived at Rotblatt last year to check that organizers were managing kegs responsibly. After checking that licensed individuals were manning the kegs, they departed to beat the end-of-game traffic.

The Process

Wagner noted that the College’s alcohol policy had gone essentially unchanged for the past decade.  The last batch of changes introduced progressives as a prohibited high-risk drinking-related activity.

The process leading to the new policy included input from the Deans, Residential Life, Student Activities, and Carleton students from the Carleton Student Association (CSA) and Alcohol Review Board. According to the Deans, students involved in the review process were responsible for communicating with the campus. However, there was little publicity and opportunity for input from the greater student population this time around.

The new policy was ultimately announced in the Student Annual Notification, an email Wagner sends each year. The email was cluttered with other campus policy statements, marginalizing the new alcohol policy.

The email stated changes to regulations regarding kegs, common containers, and hard alcohol, but did not cite changes to policy regarding drinking games. Associate Dean of Students Cathy Carlson insisted that no other policy regulations were changed without appropriate recognition.

Students were considerably concerned that the administration introduced the new policy without any publicized justification. When asked about the initial lack of justification, administrators had few answers.

In the End

Amidst the discussion of the new rules, Associate Dean of Students Joe Baggot was intent on putting things in perspective. He said that Carleton has traditionally had a liberal alcohol policy when put in the context of other Minnesota colleges.

“The main thing is that we have a safe environment without tragedies,” concluded Carlson. “If the policy doesn’t work, of course we’ll shift it.”

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