Culture of alcohol addressed in report
The Campus Culture Working Group (CCWG) published its findings September 14, 2009. Their report was a focal point at the State of the College address held September 15. At the address, the working group, led by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune, closed the evening by summarizing their findings and fielding questions from students.
President Adams formed the CCWG in 2008, in response to the resolution by the Board of Trustees that terminated the "Champagne Steps" celebration and called on the administration to address the climate of alcohol use and abuse at the College. The CCWG includes students, faculty, parents, alumni, staff and members of the administration as well as the Board of Trustees. The group met throughout the 2008-09 academic year.
Jordan Schoonover '11 became interested in the CCWG when Terhune first announced its formation. "I'm from New Mexico so when I first came to Colby I didn't really have a sense of what the culture was going to be...I expected that an elite, highly-ranked school would be more intellectual and have a more intellectual focus," Schoonover said. Instead, she said she found a campus that in her words revolved around alcohol, something she found disturbing.
Not all students were surprised by the use of alcohol on campus when they arrived during their first year. For Ben Mitchell-Lewis '11, it was much what he had anticipated, but nonetheless he was not entirely comfortable with what he encountered. "I think there is equal parts responsible and irresponsible drinking [on campus]," Mitchell-Lewis said. "I think we could do something to [move the social life] away from alcohol but it would take a lot of effort and a change in how we approach freshmen," he said. He cited the number of first-year students in "the [Alfond] apartments on Friday and Saturday nights getting rowdy" as evidence that the social life at the College revolves too much around drinking.
In the introduction to its findings the CCWG report calls problems that come from abusive drinking "the most pervasive and vexing student life issues facing higher education today." The consequences of alcohol abuse are widespread and varied.
Academic difficulties, legal and disciplinary problems, injury, illness and even death result from alcohol abuse. The report notes that despite "repeated efforts dangerous, high-risk drinking remains a staple of student life at Colby."
Thus, the purpose of the CCWG was "to focus on identifying and recommending an action plan to limit excessive drinking at Colby and mitigate the problems that result from it," according to the report. The group's goal was to identify concrete and specific ways to eliminate dangerous drinking practices on campus.
Combining national data with data collected on campus, the CCWG took into account a diverse range of facts and information related to the drinking culture on the Hill. Notably, across the nation each year, 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from excessive drinking and related causes, and 40-44 percent of college students in America binge drink.
The CCWG found those figures in line with incidents at the College in data it collected between 2005 and 2007. At the time of these surveys, 70 percent of students at the College said they did shots of hard alcohol and 35 percent of Colby students said they had "blacked out" due to alcohol.
Additionally, the CCWG took into account data that was collected during the spring of 2009. It found this data to be the most valuable to its assessment of drinking on campus. As published in the report, "some notable quantitative data from the CCWG Student Alcohol Survey" indicates that 84 percent of survey respondents were drinkers and 61 percent of drinkers said that they drink two or three days per week. Most notably, despite the high number of students who identified themselves as drinkers, an equally high number of students indicated they felt that alcohol plays too large a role in the campus social life.
According to findings from a 2005 survey by the Office of Institutional Research on alcohol and student social life on the Hill, binge drinking at the College and at other NESCAC schools is high compared to the national standard. The report stated that "the strongest predictors of binge drinking at Colby are (in rank order): 1. Gender (men more than women); 2. Financial aid status (no need and low need more than high need); 3. Athletic status (athletes more than non-athletes); 4. Ethnicity (white students more than American students of color and international students)." Findings that the "'college effect' (i.e. increase in drinking behavior after starting college) is pronounced at Colby, suggesting a strong drinking culture," is supported by data from the CCWG's own 2009 survey.
In response to these findings, the CCWG developed four defining qualities "necessary to achieve the ideal campus culture." These qualities--community, culture of integrated learning, safe and caring environment and enhanced social climate--encompass its vision for developing campus social life away from current norms of drinking.
In order to achieve these goals and develop these qualities, the CCWG developed a set of recommendations for students and the administration. Recommendations include the development of a list of community expectations, and examining and addressing issues of the quality, both academic and social, of life at the College. This will include examining a variety of campus life issues over the course of the academic year and within several aspects of student life including orientation, JanPlan, expanding the intellectual focus of campus life throughout the entire week, extended options through student programming and a revised disciplinary program.
The two aspects of the CCWG that drew the most attention at the State of the College address were the proposed restriction of hard alcohol use on campus and the potential redistribution of class scheduling to provide more academic stimulation on Fridays and the weekends.
Terhune said, under the new alcohol policy the College would scrap its current point system and, "hard alcohol on campus [could] be consumed [only] when served by a licensed caterer." This means that people of the legal drinking age would be allowed beer and wine on campus outside of the pub and catered events. If found with hard alcohol outside of these contexts, they would be penalized. Underage students would still not be allowed to have alcohol. However, the penalty for having hard alcohol on campus would be more severe than a more relaxed rule for beer and wine.
Of the College's peer institutions, only Bates and Bowdoin Colleges currently have bans on hard alcohol. Hamilton College operates under a point system where hard alcohol offenses collect more points.
"We know that 100 percent of the hospitalizations and serious intoxication problems involve hard alcohol use...so let's see where this goes. Give it a shot," Terhune said.
He emphasized, however, "We do not discipline students for seeking help or an underage drinking violation if they sought help." However, should underage students be brought to the hospital for drinking, they may face charges from the town of Waterville. Also, if intoxicated students who have received help get in trouble for different reasons--aggressive behavior or destroying a couch, two examples from last year--they will get in trouble. However, the disciplinary issues they face are separate and apart from seeking medical help.
Some students questioned the efficacy of a ban on hard alcohol, wondering how the College could be sure that there is no contraband in the residence halls, especially without campus Security making regular weekend night rounds through the dormitories this year. Terhune likened it to a police in the community; the police may not be aware of everything that goes on, but if the community behaves responsibly and does not cause problems, it will not draw the police's attention.
Although Schoonover is not sure how effective the hard alcohol ban will be, she hopes that students will take responsibility through self-policing. "Maybe it would reduce the number of students going to the hospital," Schoonover said. She too acknowledges that there is no way to enforce the ban.
In general, Schoonover has high hopes for the CCWG's recommendations, however; she feels that it is too early to tell whether or not they will be effective, particularly because it is not the role of the CCWG to implement policy. Specifically, she hopes that the statement of expectations will impact incoming classes. "If they read it they will maybe have a different perspective on alcohol when they arrive."
The report will go to the Board of Trustees for review in mid-October. If it is approved, the College can begin to develop and enact new policies, such as the hard alcohol ban.
Changes to scheduling--like instituting a Wednesday and Friday block of classes--will take more time.