One year later: the hard alcohol ban
It’s a typical Wednesday evening on the Hill and students over the age of 21 pack into the Marchese Blue Light Pub for yet another Pub Night. Besides great giveaways and unbeatable deals on select drafts, the Pub offers something to the student body that is supposedly rare on the College campus these days: hard alcohol.
The administration decided on the hard alcohol ban during the spring 2010 semester, and it went into effect at the beginning of the fall 2010 semester. The ban, which caused much controversy and several months of debate, prohibits the personal possession and consumption of hard alcohol. The policy even applied to students over 21 because the dangerous drinking existed not just for students under 21, but all students.
The original policy defined hard alcohol as anything with an alcohol content exceeding 48 proof, which is what the state of Maine defines as “distilled spirits.” Following the 2011 outbreak of malt beverages such as Four Loko, Sparks and Tilt, however, the policy was amended to include all alcoholic beverages except for beer and wine.
“Drinking to the point of life-threatening intoxication and the destruction of property are antithetical to our values as a community and to everything for which Colby stands,” Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune wrote in an e-mail to the student body in summer 2010. “It is confounding to try to understand how and why such dangerous and destructive behaviors are so prevalent.” After one year under the hard alcohol ban, has the dangerous drinking culture of the College campus changed?
“Last year’s numbers imply progress,” Terhune said. “Overall the numbers were pretty similar, with hospitalizations due to alcohol down seven percent.”
That number can be a bit deceiving, though. Hospitalization numbers were heavily frontloaded for the 2010-2011 academic year, with September, October and November seeing a greater number of hospital visits than in previous years. Between Dec. 1 and April, however, the number of hospital transportations for alcohol was down 40 percent from the same time period in the previous year.
What Terhune finds promising is not only the number of hospitalizations but also the blood alcohol content (BAC) of those admitted to the hospital. “Throughout the school year, the reported BAC of emergency room visits is down about 21 percent. This suggests less hard alcohol is being consumed—not none, but less,” he said.
With one year to reflect on the ban, Terhune feels that it was the best decision to make for the campus at the time. “The point [of the ban] was completely transparent. It was all about taking on not drinking itself, but high risk and dangerous drinking.”
The administration, along with the Student Government Association (SGA), the Board of Trustees and the Campus Culture Working Group, examined the statistics of hard alcohol on the campus and the role that it plays in students’ social lives. “Students were either doing shots in their rooms privately or making random punches where no one knows what’s it in,” Terhune said.
The goal was not to punish the students who consumed alcohol responsibly but to eliminate situations where drinking reached a dangerous level, which often coincided with spiked punches and gin buckets.
“I don’t have a problem with the ‘work hard, play harder’ motto, but why does ‘play’ have to mean ‘drink?’” Terhune said. “I would like the idea of what it means to socialize with alcohol to shift. If there’s a conclusion on campus that ‘we all drink this way,’ then we’re lost. We need to embrace changing the social standards with alcohol.”
The College initially received much criticism over the ban, with many students feeling that the school was prying too deeply into students’ personal lives. Complaints regarding the policy’s punishment outline for students over 21, as well as fear surrounding security’s role in enforcing the ban, were prevalent on campus at this time last year. But have students’ sentiments surrounding the ban changed?
“It was a big surprise this year that the hard alcohol policy wasn’t the number one issue,” Laura Maloney ’12, co-president of SGA, said. “I thought we’d be focusing on it again, but it’s not an issue. It speaks wonders of the effective enforcement of it.”
As far as enforcement of the ban, students have been assured that if they don’t create a problem, they will not face disciplinary measures. “There are not a large number of students disciplined under the hard alcohol policy,” Terhune said. “Students are generally pretty honest about their consumption. A lot of the time it’s evident, if you’re at .28 BAC you probably weren’t drinking beer all night.
“It’s not about chasing down things that aren’t problematic. If a senior has a bottle of gin for occasional gin and tonics and isn’t drawing attention to himself, he won’t be sought out. The reason for the rule is because of dangerous consumption of alcohol,” Terhune continued.
Co-President of SGA Justin Rouse ’12 agreed with the approach that security has taken toward the ban. “Any students who were worried about security and the hard alcohol ban are pretty happy,” he said.
“[The ban] is not hindering anyone’s social life. Most students have embraced not having punches at big parties,” Maloney added. “The scene is all about beer this year. No one really cares that there is a hard alcohol ban. Even during senior week last year the whole week was focused on beer.”
To continue to promote safe drinking on campus, the next measure that the school is hoping to take is advertising the ability to register parties on campus. “Most people don’t understand the system, and Campus Life has never really provided it as an option and shown why it’s beneficial,” Rouse said.
By registering a party through Campus Life, students over 21 can consume alcohol in a designated party area (an outdoor venue or a residence hall lounge) safely without the threat of getting in trouble. By having registered parties, security knows where students will be gathered that night and can relax knowing that the drinking is occurring in a controlled environment.
“Many students ask, ‘Why would I want to do that?’ But it allows students over 21 to move into spaces beyond dorm rooms. We are limited because we don’t register parties,” Maloney said. Popular venues in the past have been Averill and Bobs lawns, the Heights lounge and the Alfond Apartments lounge. SGA is also trying to get Foss dining hall approved as a possible venue.
Terhune agreed with the promotion of registered parties. “When students register parties, they spend time with Campus Life discussing the rules, and there are exponentially fewer problems at registered parties. We would like to make it easier to host and attend parties in ways that are safe and good for everybody.”
As promising as this past year has been, students and administration alike are hoping that the student body will continue to embrace the search for a safer drinking culture on campus.
“Let’s continue on the trajectory we’re on, sending fewer and fewer students to the hospital,” Rouse said. “As upperclassmen, we should set an example for freshmen just learning how to drink on a college campus. Begin a culture change.”