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On The House: Clarifying the boundaries of “students rooms” the aspect of “possession” and being “present”

Gabby Guerard


In last week’s segment, On The House focused on the aspects of “open containers,” “large quantities of alcohol,” “drinking paraphernalia,” and “drinking games.” This series will continue its in-depth look at the Student Handbook alcohol policies with the help of David Hall, Assistant Vice President For Student Affairs, as well as Robert Yanez, Director of Housing and Residence Life, and Allison Gagne, Assistant Director of Housing and Residence Life. This week will focus on clarifying the boundaries of “students’ rooms,” the aspect of “possession,” and being “present.”

Boundaries of Students’ Rooms

Under the “Alcohol Policy and Procedures for Individual Use” section on page 7 of the Handbook, policy No. 2 is as follows:

“Possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on or off the Springfield College campus must be in compliance with Massachusetts state laws. Legal use of alcohol is limited to the privacy of students’ rooms.”

While the policy states where legal use of alcohol is limited to, it does not specify what constitutes the boundaries of a student’s room. This is of particular importance for upperclassmen who live in the Living Center (LC), Townhouses, and Senior Suites, and therefore have a shared space within each housing assignment. Many wonder if that shared space is considered part of the “room” referred to in the policy, or if it is only considered to be a student’s bedroom. Additionally, if the shared space is considered a place to legally consume alcohol, many wonder if all roommates must be 21 in order to do so.

In response, Hall explained that he believes the shared space is considered a place where alcohol may be consumed by all students of legal age.

“It’s not perfect, because there’s 20 and 21 year olds living in there,” said Hall. “The devil is in the details here. If you have six people living in an LC, some are 20 and some are 21, I would say that there can be alcohol in the common areas and in anyone’s room who’s 21.”

Yanez agreed and explained that the shared space is essentially like a living room. “Picture this: I’m 21, I’m in my living room watching the Seahawks, and I’m enjoying myself and having a beer,” he said. This is not considered a policy violation.

“My 20-year-old roommate can be right next to me,” added Gagne. “As long as they’re not consuming, no policy violation.”

Yanez said that while the student may legally consume alcohol next to underage roommates, there is also a sense of reason when considering who is most likely consuming what.

“Let’s say there are 12 red Solo cups. I’m not going to think, ‘Oh, Robert is just having a beer,’ I’m going to say, ‘Listen, this is what I saw. I saw 12, and there were about 10 people there,’” he said. “Do the math.”

That same policy also does not define what constitutes “possession.” Given that students who are 21 may drink in the shared space of a housing assignment, many underage roommates wonder if they could be at risk for a “possession” violation, since that alcohol would technically be in a space which they are responsible for.

Because “possession” is a particularly situational concept, Hall was able to articulate the policy most clearly through a series of examples:

“When alcohol is on one half of someone’s room but not on the other, most of the time it’s that roommate who takes responsibility, and the other roommate usually is not charged for any sort of violation. So that would be possession.”

“Let’s say it’s in your room: If somebody brings a 6 pack of beer in there, and leaves it in there and leaves, but you’re in your room and the 6 pack of beer is still there. It’s now yours. It’s in your space. You’re responsible for what’s in your space.”

“In a room full of like five people and there’s a 30 pack, it’s more likely than not that everybody was in there drinking, or the people who reside in the room, it’s more likely than not they welcomed the alcohol in the room. It’s in their possession.”

“We can almost always discern and be reasonable to say, ‘If there were four beers there and three people were 21 and one person was 20, do we really want to hold a 20-year-old accountable for possession?’ I would say most of the time we would not do that, and most of our hearing officers are reasonable and wouldn’t do that in that case.”

In the Presence of

Under the “Alcohol Policy and Procedures for Individual Use” section on page 7 of the Handbook, policy No. 8 is as follows:

“Disciplinary proceedings will be commenced against those students who are hosting a gathering where alcohol is served to minors and/or the consumption of alcohol by guests is not monitored. Underage students present where alcohol is found may face disciplinary action.”

While the policy explains that students are unable to serve alcohol to minors, it is unclear whether the underage student will get in trouble for just being present without actually drinking.

Hall immediately clarified this by stating, “I don’t want to say anything in the absolute, but now four years into me doing Community Standards here, I don’t know if we’ve had a case where we’ve held anybody accountable for someone who’s underage, being at a party, who wasn’t drinking.”

He proceeded to explain that the intention of this policy was to prevent situations where an organization holds a party and provides alcohol to underage students, who then leave the party and need to be transported to the hospital. He added that often times, the only way officials are able to find the organization that is responsible is due to the events afterward.

“It’s only when they are drinking, and half the time it’s only when they get caught, because someone gets so sick that they end up in an interaction of getting written up and they say, ‘I was at this house, where this team had a party, and they gave everybody this,” said Hall. “Those are good educational opportunities to let everybody know: don’t buy alcohol to get other people drunk.”

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.

Photo courtesy of Daniela Detore

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