Seniors establish peer advisors
At this point, everyone on campus has read the statistics regarding hospitalizations at the College. This is not a new issue. Yet despite last year's numerous conversations on the subject and resulting hard-alcohol ban, multiple students went to the emergency room during the first weekend of classes. So far it seems that the rules have changed but the campus mentality around drinking has not.
Seniors Charlotte Wilder and Tory Gray are hoping to change this mentality. "Basically, we want to try to tell students that they don't have to binge drink to fit in and change the culture," Wilder said. "At the rate we're going it's just not healthy, and I don't think it's fair to yourself to keep binging when most of the kids here have so much promise."
Wilder and Gray are the co-founders of MulePAC, an on-campus peer mentoring group dedicated to discussing many of the issues that arise during life on the Hill. Although MulePAC is still in its nascent stages of development, its goal is clear. Wilder and Gray aim to organize a group of twenty advisors that will be drawn from all four class years. These advisors will be able to meet with students confidentially and provide them with impartial advice.
"I think it's so important to have this system of peer advisors set up, and I'm amazed that it has not happened before because college is hard, especially navigating time management for school and also the politics of friendship," Wilder said.
The pair came up with the idea during their junior year, when they realized that their own experiences had changed their outlook on the social life here on the Hill. They noted that many of the problems that students experience on campus are the direct results of the College"s overwhelming binge drinking culture.
"We've both experienced a lot of things that happen on college campuses that are pretty terribleâ€¦we've had some tough times and I think that going through those experiences, we'll be able to offer some good advice to students in the same situation," Gray said.
"It dawned on us in January of last year; we got to talking about it and we were like, 'I don't have this desire to go out and party as much as we used to, and it doesn't make me feel like I want to fit in.'"
Wilder agreed, noting, "It was more of a realization that binge drinking isn't conducive to being happy or to doing well in anything, and personally I physically couldn't do it anymore and I didn't want to, and I realized there were more important things that I should be working on."
Binge drinking has been a concern on campus for several years, most notably since the termination of the "Champagne on the Steps" when in May 2008, as a result of campus-wide binge drinking connected to this end-of-year celebrator event, 14 students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in a single day. Binge drinking of hard alcohol continues to be the cause of hospitalization on campus, but MulePAC hopes to combat the mentality that this sort of behavior is ok.
"The norm here is that you drink until you can't drink, and then you puke and then you drink more, and that's not a normal thing," Wilder said. "If you rationalize 'booting and rallying', which is an accepted term, that's not ok.
"Our statistics are much worse than [those at] any [other] NESCAC school, which I think is inexcusable."
Gray made an apt comparison between college students' binge drinking and binge eating related medical conditions. "These people are drinking until they throw up and then they drink more, and if you put food into that situation you would have an eating disorder, which would be a huge scandal."
Despite having only the best of intentions with their program, they have received criticisms from peers who feel MulePAC will not have an impact on the College"s drinking culture.
"I think what we're doing is somewhat controversial: we've had some backlash; we've had some people say that it's stupid, which is hard," Wilder said. "You don't want to be seen by students as playing to the side of the administration, but we're just here to help students and make the campus a better place."
The goal of MulePAC is not to preach abstinence from alcohol, but to encourage a safer campus mentality and to reduce the peer pressure that is often associated with drinking.
"We're not judging people who drink. We both still drink, but we want people to stop and reevaluate this and think, 'Does this make me happy? Is this something I want to do?' because you don't have to do it," Wilder said.
"We want to see fewer people going to the hospital and fewer people pressuring each other to drink and accepting it when someone doesn't want to go out," Gray said. "A lot of times [students say,] 'I don't want to go out,' and friends say, 'You're not going out? Why aren't you going out?' We want to minimize that pressure and have people [be] more aware that this is a problem."
Gray and Wilder also hope to assist students with other prevalent issues on campus, many of which are the result of drinking. The two cited 'hooking up' as another topic of discussion during future MulePAC advising sessions.
"Alcohol is a latent cover for all sorts of social issues: dorm damage, friendships, dating, not dating," Wilder said. "If you wake up on Sunday morning and you don't know what you did, who you hooked up with, that's scary."
"I think we'll get people who just feel suffocated by their friends, and other issues like body image and relationships," Gray added.
The founders of MulePAC recently launched their website and have been making the group's name known throughout campus via posters, general announcements and a Facebook group. Gray and Wilder are receiving support for their efforts from Dean of Students Paul Johnston and Medical Director Paul Berkner, but the administration won't have access to the names of students who meet with the mentors.
Although the pair will only be around to witness the effects of their efforts for one year, they have made plans to ensure the continued existence of the group on campus.
Both students have high hopes for MulePAC, and hope that the student body responds well to their efforts.
"I think if people have an impartial student who's older, who has been through it, who's trained to talk to people, it could be a huge resource and hopefully help the student body overall," Wilder said.
"You can't argue that sending eight kids to the hospital on the first weekend back at Colby is cool. It's sort of sad that we feel we have to take this defensive stance against what we're doing, because it's only out of good and not out of judgment or malice; it's about trying to help."