A crackdown on alcohol, or health and safety as usual?
You won’t have any trouble finding students who say that the administration has been far stricter in enforcing alcohol policy this year, but it’s a tough claim to prove.
To see just how difficult it is to draw concrete conclusions about the administration’s approach to alcohol on campus, visit the Student Affairs website and read the undergraduate alcohol policy. The subsection headed “Community Expectations Violations” begins: “It shall be a violation of the alcohol policy to engage in an action while under the influence of alcohol that is disruptive to the community.” Fair enough, considering that fighting and vandalism are later listed as “disruptive” behaviors, which they typically are. But the real question-begger in that sentence is “community.” Does “shouting” after a few rounds of Nasty Natty—also listed as a disruptive behavior, to the dismay of gung-ho greeters everywhere—really disrupt the “community” at a place like Duke, where drinking is woven into the campus fabric? As one student joked, it might be more disruptive in our particular community to drink daintily and always act like we’re on the fourth floor of Perkins.
In a 2010 email to the student body, President Brodhead wrote, “Like every other college in America, we have too much drinking on this campus.” Duke students know that drinking can cause or inflame problems, and that it flits around the edges of so many things that some or all of us would like to change about this campus. But understanding that drinking and chaos go hand-in-hand is roughly as profound as realizing that cars sometimes crash. This is a college, right? Even the president of our school admits that, on a college campus, the presence of alcohol is, if not inevitable, hard to shake. The same could be said for the give and take between drinkers (i.e., students) and administrators.
“We need rules,” says Zach Prager, former Interfraternity Council president and president of Pi Kappa Alpha. “But when you feel backed into a wall, no one does anything on campus.” Though Prager said that this back-to-the-wall feeling is mostly perception, an accretion of little things like Residence Coordinators and Resident Assistants appearing to pay ever closer attention to what fraternities are doing in section, he said there has been a noticeable shift in the way the administration is approaching alcohol use. “Administrators are not ‘cracking down,’ but it’s the culture. Stricter is the norm.”
Prager cites subtle developments like the six beer rule—originally an LDOC regulation, now in effect permanently—that prevents a student from being in possession of more than six beers at a time. He notes that this can be used to preclude, say, four students from clustering on the quad around a case of thirty beers. The little things have added up to the point that Prager says his fraternity has already moved all of their official events off-campus. “My fraternity hasn’t registered an event all year. We don’t do anything in section… The risks far outweigh the rewards.”
Wayne Manor senior Greer Mackebee was set to appear on “Jeopardy!” the week before Spring break, and Wayne naturally wanted to have a watch party. Mackebee got permission from Wayne President Carter Suryadevara to reserve a common room in K4 on Wayne’s behalf, only to be told by administrators that they couldn’t hold an event because they were still under investigation for an alcohol-related incident that had happened during rush. Wayne cancelled the event and didn’t use their official funds. Meanwhile, however, Pratt students had started to publicize the watch party, and Mackebee himself had previously created a Facebook event. What began as a Wayne event was no longer within its power to effectively cancel, and dozens of students showed up to the K4 common room.
Wayne Manor ended up getting in trouble after an RA arrived and decided that what was going on was a Wayne watch party, even though the majority of students in the room were not, according to Suryadevara, Wayne members. The group was also sanctioned for moving furniture without permission, an offense classified as “wrongful appropriation” of university property under Student Affairs policy. Suryadevara says that the group is now on edge about even its most informal events. Only at the last minute did Valerie Glassman, senior program coordinator for the Office of Student Conduct, assure Suryadevara that an impromptu gathering of Wayne members in a common room to watch the Duke-UNC game was permissible.
Apparently, student leaders are only sometimes expected to prevent students from gathering unofficially in common rooms. Stories like this one belie an inconsistent approach.
“We were afraid to line up in K-ville, because that might somehow violate policy,” Suryadevara said. “And then you have The Chronicle complaining about bad attendance at basketball games.”
DSG President Pete Schork noted that paternalistic enforcement can run counter to the University’s educational mission: “If the administration is telling us how to party, essentially, beyond telling us what’s right but ensuring what’s right in their minds, I think that jeopardizes our capacity to determine that for ourselves and ultimately lead healthier lives in the way they would want us to.”
Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta and Tom Szigethy, associate dean and director of the Duke Student Wellness Center, all stressed the administration’s approach to alcohol is focused on the publicly stated and re-stated “health and safety” agenda to which Schork alluded. While they all denied that Duke has adopted any kind of “crackdown” master strategy, they stressed that any changes in policy or enforcement were in response to specific high risk or dangerous drinking practices like Tailgate. Moneta did acknowledge that administrators have recently adopted a more comprehensive focus than in years past, noting, “we have been consistently and predictably focused on dangerous and harmful drinking.” He mentioned that pre-gaming would be the biggest alcohol-soaked agenda item for the near future, though it’s not clear what that will entail. In the story told by administrators, changes in policy and enforcement are part of a deliberate, rational bureaucratic agenda that moves forward in response to the needs of students, not in opposition to what we want.
“It’s called progress,” Wasiolek said. She painted any change in the culture of alcohol enforcement as “not a deliberate shift in policy” but a culture shift among “community members,” a constituency that includes students. Szigethy said that the administration’s current approach to enforcement is a matter of “trying to get a handle on what students truly want… [and] responding to the drive among students for a different campus culture.”
But the stories told by Prager and Suryadevara run counter to the administration’s characterization of a changing climate of enforcement as a matter of responding to what students want. Then again, anyone who has so much as glanced at the opinion pages of The Chronicle knows that many of Duke’s students, faculty and administrators spend plenty of time wishing that someone would do something to change that old bogeyman, campus culture.
Duke is constantly investigating and critiquing itself—just look at the recently released Duke Social Relationships Project, which had plenty to say about alcohol. We can all recite from memory the glaring incidents that have given shape to the abstract culture-talk. Tailgate was cancelled after a young teenager was found drunk and passed out in a Porta Potty. Two Duke students, Drew Everson and Matthew Grape, have died in the past two years in accidents that involved alcohol. Moneta reminded me of an unfortunate fact that no one at Duke is allowed to forget: The University’s evaluation of itself is still taking place in a context that is specifically, as he puts it, “post-lacrosse.”
No one can say that administrators don’t have any reason to scrutinize and adjust alcohol policy and enforcement at Duke. But that doesn’t mean that the concrete changes they’ve made, as well as the new perceptions that have grown among students, are totally in line with “health and safety.” Cancelling Tailgate, banning orientation week parties, holding student group leaders accountable for the actions of their group members, convincing frats and selective living groups that they have to constantly watch their backs—where does all of this lead?
Prager isn’t the only one who warns that his group and others have either moved the majority of their events off-campus or are planning to do so. Schork, Suryadevara and former Brownstone president Daniel Fishman all echoed him, saying that their experiences provide groups with a strong incentive to look off-campus. Neither Wasiolek, Moneta, nor Szigethy ventured to claim that Duke students wouldn’t start doing more drinking and general socializing off-campus, though they were quick to note that this is an old counterargument and one that is heard on many campuses. Still, as much power as these administrators and others may have on Duke property, there’s essentially nothing they can do to oversee student health and safety if we simply choose to take our parties elsewhere.
Given such self-reflective discussion, spurred in large part by a series of embarrassing—and sometimes tragic—events bound up with drinking, it may have been inevitable that Duke would tighten up. Duke’s alcohol policies and the atmosphere of enforcement are still far from the most draconian in the nation. All of West and Central Campuses are “wet,” and Duke has never been known for things like room searches and citation-happy campus police. If Duke hadn’t long seemed like a place that was fairly friendly to student drinkers, there would be no tradition for strictness to contradict, no loss to become outraged over.
Narratives and counter-narratives aside, though, off-campus drinking is something to worry about. All the health and safety talk in the world won’t do us much good if we go looking for fun and find ourselves exposed to more drunk driving, Durham police who aren’t as friendly as their Duke counterparts and whatever else can happen when drunk students start having misadventures away from our cocooning campus. It’s important to remember that Lacrosse happened off-campus, as did the most recent alcohol-related tragedy, senior Matthew Grape’s death in a drunk driving accident.
You might say that it’s up to us to look out for our own safety, and not ask the administration to hold our hands, since we’re so hung up on being treated like adults. Fair enough, but where does “community” fit into that equation? We need to find a way to talk about on-campus drinking without bile and without dissembling. The alternative is to replace a sense of community with rules that drone on about “community,” and to say “health and safety” when you really mean “health and safety as long as you play by our rules.”