What Kind of Messages Are We Sending? Pending Alcohol Policy Changes

By Melissa Anacker ’12 and Tori Mirsadjadi ’12, Contributng Writer and Senior Copy Editor The recent controversial Health Education Outreach display on alcohol awareness on the eve of Scripps’ annual Eurotrash party raised discussion about alcohol awareness. A dialogue of how offensive students found the posters drew on a subtext of alcohol and safe partying. At the BeHeard forum on Oct. 12, there was much discussion of the College’s current alcohol policy in light of the Health Education Outreach displays. This included not just possible changes in the current policy, but ideas for the direction this revision should take.

Though it is wise to warn all students that adding alcohol to any situation increases the dangers for all parties involved, it is also important for health campaigns to avoid increasing the shame or victim blame for assault survivors. Much discussion is happening surrounding concerns for students’ safety.

Dean of Students Rebecca Lee has made changing the alcohol policy one of her top priorities, and has formed an Alcohol Policy Task Force with student, staff and faculty representatives. The new task force convened at the end of October and began reviewing campus policy. Ideas from the BeHeard forum were brought to Dean Lee’s attention, so students’ input was directly reaching College administration to become a part of effecting change. The idea of peer-to-peer programs, brought up in the BeHeard forum and implemented on a small-scale level at Friday’s Alcohol Awareness Carnival, was particularly prominent in these discussions.

Part of the alcohol policy discussion includes whether current policy effectively addresses issues of safety and alcohol awareness. One issue resident advisers have been working on with administration is the “Closed Door” policy, which some worry endangers students’ welfare more than it protects it. If a Scripps student wants to have a drink in a Scripps dorm room, even if the Scripps student is of legal age, that student is compelled under current policy to keep the door shut or risk getting in trouble with the College. Resident Adviser Jennifer Mathai (‘12) voiced her frustration with the current policy: “If I am supposed to look out for students’ welfare, I can’t see what happens behind closed doors.” Closed-door policies foster a mentality, numerous BeHeard attendees pointed out, in which “safe” drinking means drinking without getting caught, more than actually drinking in a safe manner.

At the BeHeard forum, a “Good Samaritan” clause, along the lines of the policy already adopted by Pomona, was suggested. The idea is to encourage students to report dangerous incidents in which alcohol is involved without fear of being punished. Considering Scripps’ alcohol policy in respect to the other colleges in the consortium, BeHeard attendees also took issue with the manner in which alcohol spending is currently handled by the College. Students would prefer for Scripps to be independent of Claremont McKenna when it comes to purchasing alcohol for parties, and to assert agency in the 5C culture by being able to provide our own alcohol.

Another topic was the arbitrariness of the limit of gatherings in which alcohol is present to eight people. BeHeard forum members pointed out the ways that this number placed unreasonable constraints on residents living in suites, making it virtually impossible for them to throw parties in which alcohol is served. Also part of the discussion of drinking in residence halls, resident advisers’ obligation to report infractions was brought up as a problem.

“As an RA,” Mathai said, “we already have a stigma, and people are less likely to call us when they are drinking behind closed doors.” She emphasized that the current policy breeds bad habits. At the BeHeard forum, students voiced a desire for RAs’ roles to shift away from policing students and more toward supporting and helping them.

The BeHeard forum also introduced the idea that making drinking such an insular activity is inhibiting a sense of dorm community. Substance-free spaces were mentioned as a way to promote dorm community and maintain the possibility for Scripps students to live in an environment that precludes alcohol from its social environment. Allowing alcohol, forum attendees emphasized, does not have to mean allowing parties to trash the Scripps campus; issues of noise and litter could be handled independently of the presence (or absence) of alcohol in such situations.

Mathai also said that punishing open alcohol use sends a strong message, but that the message students seem to be getting is different from that which the College’s administration wants to promote. Keeping quiet about alcohol use is not the same thing as preventing it from being a dangerous problem. Attendees of the BeHeard forum took issue with the immaturity implicit in this refusal to address alcohol, urging the College to give students more credit as responsible adults and to take accountability for the fact that students can and will drink alcohol, whether or not it’s officially allowed by the College.

“Alcohol is the number one date rape drug,” said Mathai, “and we don’t want [rape] to happen...We are not asking underage drinking to be allowed, but just that [drinking] be more open when it does happen because [acknowledging the reality of situations involving alcohol] could prevent a lot of problems.”

The BeHeard forum emphasized a need for comprehensive alcohol awareness education being paired with sexual violence education, and the education on alcohol extending beyond a message of abstaining from alcohol and sex. Some took issue with equating alcohol consumption with promiscuity, and claimed that current Scripps alcohol policy reinforces negative “Scrippsie stereotypes,” in which we are considered as dichotomously belonging to either a slutty partier category or an uptight academic one.

Mathai, who has been involved in addressing the policy, said that the policy changes are currently “in process.”