The alcohol policy outlined in the Springfield College Student Handbook has a line in rule 10 of the Alcohol Policy and Procedures for Individual Use that reads as such, “Underage students present where alcohol is found may face disciplinary action.” This rule, often shortened to merely “in the presence of,” gives Resident Assistants and Resident Directors the authority to write up underage students who are found in the same room as alcohol, regardless of whether or not the student in question has an alcoholic beverage in his hand.
The basis behind this policy is a sound one. Without the rule, it would be extremely easy for students to merely put down or dispose of their drink as soon as there was a knock at the door. As long as an underage student was not visibly under the influence, hoodwinking the authorities would be child’s play.
The “in the presence of” policy allows the Residence Life staff to still impose penalties on students who are present where alcohol is being consumed. From the viewpoint of Residence Life and the administration, this makes sense. It is their job to limit underage drinking. But there is a serious flaw in this policy.
According to a study done by the Core Institute in 2008, 83.9 percent of college students had consumed alcohol in the past year. This study tells us two things. The first is that a vast majority of college students drink. Colleges and universities must try to limit underage drinking for reasons of liability and safety. Because of this, college campuses end up with policies like “in the presence of.”
But there is another part to this statistic. There is also a minority of college students who do not drink. That 16 percent of students choose to not consume alcohol for a variety of reasons. But statistically speaking, many of their friends do. This can put a nondrinking student in an awkward position on the Springfield College campus. On a Saturday night, when a large majority of students are probably drinking, a nondrinking student will probably be forced to make the decision from spending time with friends and risk getting written up for being “in the presence of” or have to avoid most social settings.
I know students who have been written up despite not drinking. To me, this seems blatantly unfair. I understand the reasoning behind the policy, but I believe it should be tweaked.
The solution would be a simple one. Provide a voluntary Breathalyzer test to those who claim they are not drinking. If a Resident Assistant enters a room to find alcohol being consumed, a student should be offered the chance to prove they aren’t drinking. This would not provide much more work for the Resident Assistants. No one who has been drinking will volunteer for the test, and it will free nondrinking students from the penalties associated with drinking. College students should not have to be penalized for merely spending time with their friends.
I have no interest in making the Residence Life staff’s job harder. But this voluntary test would add little extra work and help students who are innocent from getting in trouble. The voluntary test would provide a fair and balanced opportunity for nondrinking students to still socially interact with their peers while not getting written up.
Josh Ernst may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org