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2013 Fall Issue 1 (September 27, 2013)

A Toast to the Cave’s New Alcohol Policy

September 27, 2013
By Hart Hornor

Students and administrators alike are toasting the Cave's new alcohol policy, which allows students to bring alcohol without having to buy it at the Cave itself.

Beginning this term, students can bring their own alcohol into the Cave; In exchange, they give up their ability to buy watered-down beer from the Cave. They may also have to wait briefly in line to be checked by a hired security firm before entering--a pretty good deal, Cave managers say.  

Cave managers have discussed how to best control alcohol in the Cave for years. In the 1990s, they tried using chicken wire to separate students who could legally drink from those who couldn't. But the conversation became more serious last winter when renovation of Evans Hall, in which the Cave is housed, was finished. "The number of students coming to the Cave just exploded," said Matthew Fitzgerald, the Cave's former general manager.

This change might sound like good news for business, but according to Cave managers, it was not ideal. The reason, Fitzgerald said, is that the Cave had a partial liquor license, which allowed it to sell only beer with a 3.2 percent alcohol content--less than the alcohol content of most beer. The end result was that no students wanted to buy it.

"On a big show night, we might sell anywhere from 30 to 150 beers," Fitzgerald said. This wasn't enough to balance the money spent each year to renew the Cave's liquor license.  

The problem wasn't just that students weren't buying beer, but that they were drinking alcohol that was not bought at the Cave. According to the conditions of a liquor license, this meant the Cave was breaking state law. "We were allowing anyone to come in and drink whatever they wanted whenever they wanted," Fitzgerald said. This included many students who were underage. "The police never said anything to us,” he added, “but basically, we got lucky.”

In the spring, concerned administrators approached Cave management, former and current managers said. "We were basically told that we needed to update our policy to make it more practical," said Jackson Hudgins, one of the Cave's managers. This led student managers to draft a proposal, explaining that few students were buying beer from the Cave, and that student workers were uncomfortable policing their peers. According to the proposal, “we [the Cave staff] must address this issue so as to prevent further liability issues while maintaining the type of environment that students desire.”

According to Caffi Meyer, the Cave's current general manager, the new policy means that Carleton is no longer liable for Cave activity related to the possession of alcohol. Presumably, liability would fall on the private security firm, but this could not be confirmed. Meyer denies that liability was a major concern in drafting the new policy, but explained that the Cave’s managers were responding to feedback from the students they serve. Students clearly didn't want to drink the beer sold at the Cave. They wanted to drink their own alcohol. The new policy allows them to do so.

Managers agree that keeping alcohol in the Cave was an important consideration. "Throughout the history of the Cave, alcohol has kind of been a beating heart," Hudgens said. "We wanted to keep that tradition alive." Fitzgerald emphasized that the new system allows over-age students to drink at the Cave more often. Meyer notes that it also allows more variety in drinking, as students can now choose between beer, malt liquor, and wine.

The proposal was shown first to CSA, which informally approved it, and then to the school deans, who formally approved it. Fitzgerald was initially surprised, as he has not expected the deans to approve it without revisions. "We brought to them the strongest proposal we could think of from the students' perspective," he said. "We were prepared to negotiate, but they accepted everything." Dean of Students Joe Baggot declined to comment.

Under the new policy, responsibility for maintaining an environment that complies with school and state rules will transfer from Cave staff to Asia Security--a private contracting firm. On nights when alcohol is allowed in the Cave, one security guard will stand at each of the Cave's two entrances. They'll check bags and state IDs to make sure only students who can legally drink are bringing alcohol into the Cave. They'll also give out wristbands to mark those who can drink. For this, the school will pay $15,000 per year, Meyer said.

Hudgens emphasized that the guards are no policemen. "It's going to be the school's policy--and the Cave's policy--for the security guards to keep everyone following the rules," he said. "But it won't be our policy to prosecute or get into trouble anyone who is not doing that."

At the Cave's first show of the term, students seemed undeterred by the security guards at the doors. "I think they're kind of cool," said a sophomore. Many of her friends live in Evans, so finding a place to drink won't be a problem, she said. "We'll be drunk no matter what."

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