Letter to the Editor: Reasoning for “In the Presence of” Policies

Dear Editor,

Let me first begin by saying I wholeheartedly agree with Gabby Maulucci; no institution of higher education is perfect.  One of the things I love about working at a college is the ability to have educational conversations with students and colleagues.   I like dissecting an idea with a student and challenging their critical thinking skills.   To be honest, they often challenge my critical thinking skills as well.

That being said, Springfield College is not unique in its challenges around addressing underage alcohol or other drug use on the campus.  I would be hard pressed to find an institution in this country that doesn’t struggle with finding the balance of upholding laws, allowing for appropriate socialization and keeping their students safe.  In fact, this issue is not new to me on this campus.  In 1993, I was hired at Springfield College to develop a Department of Alcohol and Drug Education and Clinical Services to address this issue through treatment and residence hall education. So, although some things change, many things stay the same.

So, when a student asked me recently, “when did the ‘in the presences of alcohol’ policy start on the campus?”  I had to think back to my first years here and I told her “I believe the policy had been in place prior to my arrival in 1993.”  It may surprise students to hear that this policy is not new and can be found in many small college and universities student handbooks.

The question that Gabby asks is a great one.  What purpose does it serve?

First and foremost, the College’s role is to educate students both inside and outside the classroom.   Our policies are developed to have good learning outcomes for our students, and they are in place to provide parameters to assist students in making good decisions and, therefore, help them to remain safe.

We know statistically that when high-risk drinking occurs, high-risk consequences are more likely.  We also know that only 18 to 20 percent of our student population are of legal drinking age.   There are many reasons that we need to address underage consumption. The most important reason of all is to keep our students safe.  The other reasons have institutional consequences. The Drug Free Schools and Community Act and state laws mandate that we address and reduce these behaviors or we risk losing our Federal Financial Aid monies. Nearly 85 percent of our student body receives Federal Financial Aid.  The loss of this aid would be devastating to our community.

The other reason includes supporting the Residence Life staff in the residence halls.  I have a great deal of respect for our resident assistants, resident directors and area coordinators, who juggle their own academic responsibilities with their responsibilities for building a positive community on their floors/halls and keeping their students engaged, informed and safe in their buildings.   This, as you may know, is no easy task.  These “on the ground” community builders are responsible for nearly 90 percent of our students because we are a residential community.   Nearly 2000 students live in close proximity on a campus of 185 acres of land, which includes East Campus.   We are really a small city in many ways.   Addressing underage use of alcohol is a clear mandate.  How we do it is up to us as a College. 

Let me give you a scenario that may help you understand the challenges.

It’s past quiet hours and there is loud music coming from a residence hall room in Inty.  The RAs are on a round and knock on the door.  The door is opened and in the room is a group of seven students with a table in the center of the room with seven beer cans on the table.  No one has a beer in their hand.

In the Presence of Alcohol Policy:  Students are confronted. The RAs take identification (ID) information and statements from all students.  All students are underage.   All students are documented and told that during their hearing they can explain their involvement or lack of involvement.  All non-occupants of the room are dispersed.

Without an In the Presence of Alcohol Policy:  Students are confronted.  The RAs take ID information from the residents of the room only and statements from all students.  All students are underage.  Only the residents of the room are documented and told during their hearing they can explain their involvement/or lack of involvement.

Now use your critical thinking here.  How does this play out weekend after weekend? Students would be able to move the gathering from room to room, so that no one gets written up more than a couple of times. This way, they don’t get into trouble too much.  Now imagine being an RA dealing with this kind of cat and mouse (my words) game every weekend.

The following point should also be made. Any student who is found responsible for being “in the presence of alcohol” only, and not for any other violation, typically will be assigned one of the following sanctions: a warning; a reaction paper; an educational conversation; a personal reflection paper; attendance at a campus event to get more involved; or an online alcohol education class.

You can see by the sanctions that this policy is a low-level violation that we use to have educational conversations with the hope that students will think clearly about every decision they make when it comes to participating in, or being around, alcohol use and abuse.  We would love to have more Daltons (a student who Gabby identifies as a non-drinker) on campus who are non-drinkers helping our students stay safe by being a designated driver, but making good decisions is also the responsibility of all of our students, not just Dalton. 

We are always looking for ways to improve our Late Night rogramming and alternative events for our underage students. Annie Warchol and her staff create and host a great deal of programming, but we could do more.  Join her and her staff in expanding our events.  Also, don’t hesitate to come see me with ideas or concerns. My door is always open, and I love to be challenged on my ideas.  That’s what makes learning so enjoyable.   

Terry Vecchio

Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

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