Alcohol rules need rehab

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April 24, 2009

3:33 AM

Despite our bookish reputation, College of William and Mary students know how to have a good time. And we might as well come out and say it: Most enjoy — or at least tolerate — tipping back a Natural Light on weekends. But because it is so difficult to host parties with alcohol on campus, socializing is generally pushed off campus, creating all kinds of nuisances for sleepy Williamsburg residents. If the College’s recently announced review of its alcohol policy is going to keep both students and residents happy, several problematic restrictions on on-campus drinking will need to be eased considerably, or removed from the Student Handbook altogether.

While throwing an on-campus party with alcohol is technically a possibility, there are so many bureaucratic hurdles that the mechanism is almost never used. This leaves students with two undesirable options: go underground or go off campus. At the very least, the College needs to relax the requirements for officially registering events at which alcohol is served, but this is just the first of many changes that need to be made.

Surreally, an of-age student cooking beer-battered chicken in a campus dormitory can be written up under current policy for an alcohol violation, even if he has consumed no alcohol. But we don’t want a cooking exemption added to the rules; in general, the College should allow of-age consumption of alcohol in campus common areas like dorm hallways and common rooms.

Smaller, unofficial on-campus parties, regardless of whatever official event policy with which the College comes up, will always be a reality. Currently, when these types of gatherings occur, they are pushed behind closed doors. With people crammed into such small rooms, it can be very difficult for hosts to keep an eye on who is drinking how much of what, which creates some very real risks. It is in everyone’s best interest if drinking is done out in the open, where both hosts and the College are going to be much more able to ensure drinkers’ safety.

Furthermore, the College needs to relax its restriction on common containers, up to allowing kegs. From a student’s perspective, the restriction on kegs is the height of illogic: There is no limit on the amount of beer one can buy, so long as that beer is not contained in a keg. This creates a situation in which the distribution of alcohol is almost nearly impossible to control. With a keg, however, all alcohol flows from a single source, so a single person keeping an eye on a keg is able to step in when someone has had too much. Especially for registered events, common containers like kegs offer many benefits, and these should be considered.

In a particularly distasteful example of a good idea gone wrong, now empty containers are construed as evidence of consumption. We can understand this rule’s origins. For instance, it’s only reasonable to assume a bunch of beer cans spread across a common room table means that people were at some point drinking there, in an area where under current rules they should not be drinking. Fine. But more often than not, this rule is used unreasonably, treating the height of circumstantial evidence as rock solid. Is a bag of beer cans mixed in with other garbage really evidence of a party, or could it be someone was just taking out a week’s worth of trash? While adjusting this particular policy probably won’t do much to keep students on campus, we have no problem with using this review as an opportunity to inject a touch of sanity into the rules by which we live.

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