Alcohol policy ignores student safety

Last year in particular, there were many angry voices demanding a change in the behavior of the College of William and Mary’s police department after alcohol-related crackdowns became excessive. Student Assembly members and writers from politically motivated publications did all they could, but to no avail.

While we all know someone who has had a run-in with Campus Police, the sad truth is that the police are not to blame for the absurdity of the College’s alcohol policy. Sure, they may use ethically questionable tactics from time-to-time. They may attempt to intimidate students and make them feel like criminals. It’s discouraging, but it’s reality, and there’s no changing it. This is because the police are employees of the state, which remains socially conservative and takes underage drinking very seriously.
So where does the blame lie?

There is no single answer, but let’s start with the administration’s approach to the fraternities. It revolves around one key objective: Push the frats into a small area and squeeze. They put a particular emphasis on aggressive enforcement at the beginning of each year with the hope of sending a stern message to incoming students.

Of particular note are the basements and side chapter rooms. While fraternities use these spaces for their own private traditions and leisure, they are labeled public areas by the administration, giving police, RAs and others “carte blanche” to enter and exit as they please. It also makes it easy to punish fraternities.
Rather than addressing this issue and others that might help the fraternities develop a healthier and safer social environment, Council for Fraternity Affairs’ executive leadership has for years been defined by a spineless apathy for the issues of the men they are supposed to represent. Their inability to enact change, coupled with the unfortunate tendency of fraternities to get in pointless fights with one another, ensures that no substantial changes occur.

The SA is in a similar position. While I can personally speak to the integrity and commitment of several SA members, the harsh reality is that everything they pass is a nonbinding resolution, and when it comes to the most important issues, they are powerless. The one notable exception was the alcohol amnesty program, but its record is spotty at best because it does not apply to campus police.

Then there’s the administration itself. In a 2005 interview for the first article I ever wrote for The Flat Hat, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Constantine told me that he would be in favor of a lower drinking age, but since this was obviously not the case, he and his staff could not turn a blind eye to illegal activity. It’s hard to argue with either of those points, and I understand the difficult position in which he and others find themselves.

But their alcohol policy during my time here has been upsetting. It encourages a culture of pre-gaming and binge drinking behind closed doors. It forces students to drink off campus, making incidents of drunk driving more likely. With the recent cuts in bus routes from Old Campus to Ludwell, this problem becomes even more worrisome. An argument has even been made that the College’s approach to drinking makes incidents of sexual assault more likely — which is ironic given that it was a sexual assault incident in 2003 that caused the College to change its policy.

Even more ironic is that all of this is done in the name of safety, when in fact these measures are taken to free the school from liability and make it less likely that it will face litigation if incidents do occur. At times, it seems like the administration treats the safety of its students as a hot potato that it tries to unload on other groups in order to avoid getting sued.

We should all be concerned with the safety of our peers. But rationalizing the College’s alcohol policy under a banner of safety is about as convincing as saying the three-person housing rule exists because of parking problems.

No one is innocent, but some people would benefit from admitting once in a while that they were guilty.

Alex Ely is a senior at the College.


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