In last week’s opening segment, On The House addressed the confusion and frustration among the student body regarding the alcohol policies in the Handbook, and introduced David Hall, Assistant Vice President For Student Affairs, as the corresponding contact for the Handbook. This series will now begin diving into the specific policies, and work to clearly define the gray areas. This week will focus on the aspects of “open containers,” “large quantities of alcohol,” “drinking paraphernalia,” and “drinking games.”
Under the “Alcohol Policy and Procedures for Individual Use” section on page 7 of the Handbook, policy No. 4 is as follows:
“Alcohol consumption and/or carrying open containers of alcoholic beverages is not permitted in public areas of the residence halls (lounges, entrance ways, stairwells, lavatories, corridors, etc.) or in other College buildings, at athletic events, student activities, and outdoors on the campus unless specific written authorization is granted prior to the event by the Vice President for Student Affairs or his/her designee. The College defines an open container as (1) any container that is used to hold alcoholic beverages and from which the container’s original seal is broken, (2) cups, including but not limited to, those with open tops into which a straw may be inserted.”
While the policy defines an open container, and states where one is not allowed to have such container, it does not explain the process for officials to investigate the contents of an open container which may not clearly be labeled as alcohol.
In response, Hall said that process is determined using the Community Standard’s standard of proof, which is known as “more likely than not.”
“So let’s say you’re walking around with your red solo cup that absolutely smells like vodka. So more likely than not, there’s vodka mixed in with a drink in there,” he said. “That’s how a Public Safety Officer would discern that there’s alcohol and ask you to either pour it out, or in some cases, like if you’re standing out in a public area, you can’t do that. They might write you up for that.”
However, it’s not always that simple. For example, if a student is carrying a water bottle that isn’t clear, it can be a more complex process to determine the contents, than if the student were carrying a beer can. In these situations, Hall suspects that behavioral factors play a critical role.
“‘How is this person acting?’ ‘How are they conducting themselves?’ ‘Do we think they’re safe?’ ‘Are they with somebody else?’ Those are all the things I think that would lead them to have a conversation of what’s there,” said Hall.
The other aspect of this policy that students may not have noticed prior is the fact that open containers are not allowed outdoors. This means that despite the popularity of Townhouse backyards on Saturday nights, from a technical standpoint, this is an area where open containers of alcohol are not allowed, even for those who are 21 years old or older.
“If you are in the backyards with an open container, you are in violation of policy, so it’s just a matter of if someone sees you and then addressed it,” said Hall. “The Townhouse backyards, probably of any of our areas on campus, are one of the toughest ones to figure out what to do, and you don’t want to take away from what is a good student experience either.”
Hall added that while many students violate this policy, College officials have yet to find an all encompassing solution to this particular situation, given a number of factors from both the student perspective and the administrative perspective.
“Most of the time, with 400 people in the backyards, it’s not feasible necessarily to go back there and do that. But they are still in violation of the policy.”
Hall emphasized that from a global perspective, the policy was made in the interest of the health and safety of the students. He urges students to help each other get home safely, or reach out if someone is in need of help, and to look after one another.
Under the “Alcohol Policy and Procedures for Individual Use” section on page 7 of the Handbook, policy No. 5 is as follows:
“Large quantities of alcohol are not permitted in residence halls or on the grounds of the campus. Large quantities of alcohol brought into the room by a resident and/or a resident’s visitor or guest, are considered a violation. Kegs, whether empty or full, tapped or untapped, and/or other large alcohol storage devices (i.e., trash cans, beer balls) are strictly prohibited and will be confiscated (taps and ‘keg-o-rators’ included) by the College. Recognizing the serious health risks posed by excessive drinking, the College also prohibits drinking paraphernalia, including drinking funnels, all manners of drinking games, and preparation of spiked punch or ‘jungle juice.’”
Although there are a number of elements within this policy, none of the following phrases are clearly defined: “large quantities of alcohol,” “drinking paraphernalia,” and “drinking games.”
With students unclear as to exactly how much “large quantities of alcohol” are, and whether that amount is in regard to the quantity of alcoholic beverages or the alcohol concentration within the beverages, Hall stated that leaving the phrase “large quantities of alcohol” was specifically intended.
“We discussed that at length again last year, and purposely left out hard alcohol quantities, because how do you determine exactly what quantity the College should allow a 21-year-old to bring into their residence hall?” he said. “It’s also something that’s unenforceable, so I don’t think it’s good to have something that’s unenforceable.”
Similarly, the decision to leave the phrase “drinking paraphernalia” undefined was also intentional, in an attempt to give students more flexibility on the disciplinary side of the procedure.
“Anytime you add more to the Handbook to say, ‘funnel,’ ‘shot glass,’ ‘beer can,’ you’re going to miss something,” said Hall.
He explained that the policy has actually become more lenient in recent years. Two years ago, the College decided to stop writing up students for empty beer cans or shot glasses in their rooms, due to the fact that shot glasses can often be used for decorative purposes, rather than for measuring alcohol.
“I just felt we were getting really nit-picky, and then we’re getting adversarial when we start doing that stuff,” he added. “The idea obviously with the funnel – it’s in there only because we know that would only be used for one purpose, which is [drinking].”
In general, Hall urges students to remember the context in which an item is being used. For example, empty red solo cups are not considered drinking paraphernalia. However, “If there’s a bunch of people with a table there and red solo cups and ping pong balls, there’s more likely than not a drinking game going on there.”
Drinking games are an aspect that Officials even considered removing from the Handbook entirely, due to the fact that the policy can be challenging to understand in two situations: for students who are 21 years old and legally able to drink, and for students who choose to play pong with only water and no alcohol. In both of these cases, the students would still be in violation of this policy.
“When we write our policies for our Student Handbook, we always look at five or six other handbooks of other institutions that are similar to us to see what they say, to make sure we’re best practiced on what’s in there,” explained Hall. “We’ve learned over the years, particularly that many of those things [beer pong, water pong, kings, quarters] are linked to people drinking too much or binge drinking. So campuses feel from a cultural standpoint, it’s important to keep in your policy to not allow drinking games.”
Hall also acknowledged that while those are just a few examples of drinking games, it would be nearly impossible to generate a specific list in the Handbook, because the trend of particular games can fluctuate every year.
Instead of listing the individual games, Hall explained the qualities which often constitute a game to be a “drinking game” as follows:
“Games that are linked towards drinking a lot or binge drinking, where the outcome is something happens during a game and you’re forced to drink, or the game is you drink, that can be potentially a public health or a dangerous situation.”
Because games with these qualities could pose a threat to the health of any students while on the Springfield College campus, even that those who are 21 years old are still not allowed to play drinking games, in an attempt to not promote any form of binge drinking.
However, students who play water pong without alcohol feel that without that element, pong is simply a regular game with no connection to binge drinking, and are frustrated with this policy. Within the first four weeks of the school year, the College has already had one situation where students were written up for playing water pong with no alcohol.
Hall stated that, “To my knowledge, that’s the first time we’ve ever found it without alcohol,” and until this point, did not understand that some students play it without drinking, as a means of being safe and abiding by the law, while also partaking in a common social aspect of the college lifestyle.
“I can understand where students can be [frustrated] if there’s no alcohol involved,” reflected Hall.
Moving forward, he hopes to better understand why students would want to play a drinking game without any drinking, and even poses the question, “Is there a way in the future to amend our policy where there’s not a harsh sanction for anything like that that may occur? Or who knows what happens, maybe there’s none if there’s no alcohol found?”
In the coming weeks, On The House will continue thoroughly explaining the Handbook policies regarding to alcohol. Additionally, future topics of exploration include but are not limited to: what it’s like to be an RA, what it’s like to be a Public Safety Officer on a Saturday night, the role of alcohol in sexual assaults, the perspective of students who don’t drink, and how different athletic teams approach their own alcohol policies.
Featured photo courtesy of Daniela Detore