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I believe we are at a tipping point at Middlebury. This moment and opportunity will require real commitment and the generation of creative and serious solutions as we look for ways to improve student-life options on campus. The process began last year with the alcohol survey and the student forum on alcohol—and is continuing now in all sectors of the College.

Although the discussion has focused primarily on alcohol use, it touches on so many other aspects of social life. I would like to open the conversation, engaging as many of you as possible in finding workable solutions.

It is clear to me that addressing this campus issue will take the commitment, energy, and creativity of many members of our community in order to find good answers—that not only make social life more engaging here but that also foster independence and accountability among students.

My blog today includes the letter that I recently sent to the campus community about the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life (below). I’m calling on students to step up and offer ideas and views in the comments section here, on MiddBlogand through The CampusPlease feel free also to speak with any of the task force members or to visit me during my office hours.

Let’s see how many different, thoughtful ideas we can generate. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Letter:

Dear faculty, staff, and students:

Last year we began important discussions about the relationship of alcohol to social life at Middlebury. This process began with an alcohol survey in the fall of 2010 and concluded with a well-attended student forum on alcohol in the spring of 2011. Energetic conversation on the subject was augmented by coverage in The Campus and in MiddBlog.

This year we wish to move these conversations toward constructive, realistic, and practical responses. In the process, we seek to answer these questions:

  • What role should alcohol play in the social life of our students?
  • How might we improve social events with and without alcohol?
  • What are the options for students who do not wish to drink?

As recently reported in The Campus and in MiddBlog, I have formed the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life, composed of students, faculty, and staff to:

  • Review the quality and variety of social options on campus (as well as how social events are marketed)
  • Assess the positive and negative roles that alcohol plays in student social experience
  • Propose new or revised policies, procedures, and support structures that effectively address student, faculty, and staff concerns

I am very pleased to announce that Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott and Coach Bob Ritter will be co-chairing the task force. Task force members include:

  • Adam Beaser, ’14
  • Priscilla Bremser, Professor of Mathematics
  • Susan DeSimone, Associate in Science Instruction, Biology
  • Dan Gaiotti, Associate Director, Public Safety
  • Carllee James, ’13
  • Matt Kimble, Associate Professor of Psychology
  • Nathan LaBarba, ’14
  • Robert LaMoy, ’12
  • Sylvia Manning, Manager, Custodial Services
  • Ellen McKay, Administrative Program Coordinator, Chaplain’s Office
  • Nial Rele, ’12
  • Becca Shaw, ’12
  • Annie Wymard, ’15

Task force members will specifically be asked to:

  • Review current national and regional data on alcohol use among college students; examine evidence-based recommendations to reduce problematic drinking; evaluate the applicability of national and regional recommendations to the Middlebury setting.
  • Review current alcohol policy and make suggestions for revised policies and enforcement.
  • Assess the College’s approach to health and wellness education, consider programs for prevention and for those struggling with addiction.
  • Develop ideas for enhancing social life, including viable options for first-year students.
  • Assess the balance between fostering independence and student responsibility while ensuring the safety of all students.
  • Investigate the relationship between excessive drinking and vandalism on campus, with an eye toward proposing workable solutions.
  • Present additional ideas and creative solutions.

This task force will be a working and action-oriented group. In addition to carrying out the above-mentioned tasks, they will be engaging members of the community (especially students) throughout the year for feedback and ideas. A final report with recommendations will be submitted to President Liebowitz and me by late April 2012.

We are committed to this effort and hope that you will be a part of the conversation and the solutions by providing feedback and ideas along the way. Feel free to reach out to Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott, Coach Bob Ritter, or me if you have any questions or suggestions.

Sincerely,
Shirley M. Collado

14 Responses to “Wanted: Your Ideas”

  1. Student says:

    If you make registering for a party a less ridiculous process where students don’t have to jump through 45 hoops each time just to have their party shut down in its first 5 minutes, social houses will have more parties and students will be happier because they will FINALLY have somewhere to go on weekends. Students will not feel the need to black out in their rooms before the party because there will be alcohol there, and there will be less dorm damage becuase instead of being turned away from 4 different shut down parties at 1215 on the one night we are somehow free to go out, intoxicated students will come back both incredibly disgruntled and belligerent. If you make this small change, you will see a tremendous change in the overall happiness, health and attitude of the student body. PLEASE take these changes to heart- we beg you!

  2. Student says:

    I think Matt Hedgpeth’s op-ed in last week’s paper addressed similar issues well. The College seems (understandably) to be trying to discourage large parties as much as possible, but that does even more to drive drinking underground into smaller venues/rooms where a peer mentality to keep drinking (read: keep taking shots) is much more likely to happen. It’s harder to regulate your own alcohol use when other people are watching and/or encouraging you–at larger parties, people are rarely drinking anything other than a beer or two. That’s not to say that people wont pregame large parties, but they will then effectively stop drinking for the night, rather than staying in their rooms (minimizing visible drinking, PubSafe headaches, messes, or campus damage) but continuing to drink more and more throughout the night.

  3. Anon says:

    I think it’s necessary to re-examine the message regarding alcohol given at Orientation. All I heard was “WHEN you drink, make sure to do…” or “WHEN you drink, blah blah blah.” There was never any “Do not drink” message, which was discouraging to me. Drinking for most first-years is ILLEGAL, no matter what way you wan’t to look at it. I’m definitely not saying I think there should be no drinking on campus, I’m just saying that the message that first-years are presented with should be looked at again.

  4. Student says:

    I agree with 10:02 AM on most accounts. When parties get shut down, which they literally always do, people have nothing to do, so they go back to their dorms and whether they drink more or break things or pull fire alarms they are much more likely to do SOMETHING bad, and this problem could be easily avoided. Let parties happen!!! As much as you might like to, you can’t stop them, all you can do is unleash hundreds of angry, drunken, testosterone-filled kids out onto campus with nothing to do. So let the parties happen, and you can do one of two things. Either let there be alcohol, and pubsafe can be there to regulate, and make sure that no minors drink (which is totally fine and no one objects to simply having pubsafe at a party), OR keep alcohol from parties. Even this move, which of course still forces people to pregame (often way too hard), would be beneficial because you would see the rate of fire alarms pulled and dorm damage decrease. There is no reason to try to end partying at Middlebury College. Simply make it a little bit safer. Pubsafe doesn’t need to shut down EVERY party – they can simply ensure that the parties are safe – after all, isn’t that supposed to be their job? If Middlebury is supposed to prepare us for “the real world,” then isn’t part of that teaching us how to behave in party environments? Rather than trying to end partying, simply make it a little bit safer, and everyone will appreciate your effort even if things are still not exactly good.

  5. Student says:

    I am a Senior who is a member of a suite that has thrown 2 large, open parties in the Atwater Suites this fall. One with a keg, one without.

    First, I think we had a really positive experience with Public Safety in our parties. In one in particular, they came through at 11 said we were too crowded and they let us thin out the crowd. Instead of flashing the lights and causing a stampede for the door, we got people who we didn’t know to leave peacefully, and within an hour we were back up to a roaring dance party. That continued until about 1:45 when Public Safety came back and said it was loud and that it was time to shut down, so we did. I think the system worked great. PSafe gave us (the people in the suite) the responsibility of controlling the party, and we did to a very reasonable degree. If PSafe had thrown on the lights and tossed everyone out of the suite it would have killed the party, instead people went outside for half an hour, came back and resumed dancing the night away.

    Second, I was wondering what the current state of the keg debate is on campus. They are comparably priced to the equivalent amount of cans, they don’t create the all the waste from cans, and they flow out beer at a slow rate. I remember the second party we threw this year, we didn’t buy a keg because we were afraid PSafe might find it (they didn’t during the first party) and fine us. That beer literally evaporated within a half hour. Drunk people have no problem shoving their pockets full of other people’s beer and leaving to go some place else. Kegs create a social center at a party and can only pour out beer so fast. It seems to me like they should be allowed in senior housing to enable less intoxicated, more environmentally-friendly, and more social parties. Who has the counter argument for me because I haven’t been able to come up with anything too convincing for why kegs cause more harm than good.

    People can take responsibility for their own parties when PSafe allows them to, and kegs seem like a good way to keep parties social and alcohol consumption semi-controlled.

  6. Anon says:

    What are the different possible outcomes from this “tipping point”?

  7. Another student says:

    I agree with the comment about the treatment of the topic of drinking at freshmen orientation. I also recall the “WHEN you drink, you should…” emphasis and was quite uncomfortable with this continuous assumption as I felt that our orientation leaders were implying that EVERYONE drinks and that you’re not a college student unless you do. To me it felt like the peer pressure to drink and party started right on day one at orientation.

    Something that specifically shocked me: my FYC, right after giving us freshmen a lecture on safe drinking and such, invited us all to do shots at a party at KDR that night, as some kind of hall-bonding activity!

    In conclusion, I would recommend seriously looking into how the topic of alcohol is dealt with at orientation.

  8. Lindsey Messmore says:

    I have trouble comprehending the administrations support of MCAB’s most recent campaign of “Blackout” dance parties; it seems incredibly incongruous with the message that the administration is generally trying to espouse. I suppose it is possible that the term “blackout” is being used to mistakenly reference blacklights and imply a rave-type of party. Or perhaps this is an environmentally sound, sustainably held kind of party where no electricity is used, thus the term blackout. But I doubt it. And the popular connotations of the term “blackout” on a college campus are, to me, obvious: drinking so excessively that memories become blurred or altogether erased and consciousness is questionable. I find it infuriating that while the administration attempts to tout legal and responsible drinking they simultaneously support a student committee that sends such a message to the campus, particularly to the mostly underage attendees of these dance parties. As someone over 21 who does imbibe, I find the promotion of blacking out by the campus community, MCAB and the administration irresponsible, hypocritical and very worrisome. Shouldn’t we be promoting responsible drinking before we promote blacking out? As alcohol and blacking out can often lead to bad decisions and unfortunate situations, I wonder what our new Sexual Assault Oversight Committee has to say about the use of this term. Dean Collado, what do you think?

  9. Hudson Cavanagh says:

    In addition to the three questions that are posed, I think there is an elephant in the room that might as well be addressed directly: student safety. The alcohol policy has been almost entirely reactionary in nature at least with regard to student safety and this is why. When Public Safety intervenes in underage drinking it has two basic reasons: upholding Vermont law and ensuring the public safety and while the first point is not something we can debate, the second is one that should be critically addressed through this panel.

    In large gatherings (say at a social house or an interest house), it is not only impractical but probably impossible to determine who in the room is of age and who isn’t, and thus it is clearly protocol to not go through the room demanding proof that everybody is of age. The primary reasoning for this is prioritization of officers towards something that better advances safety, even at the cost of catching each and every underage drinker. Necessarily, the alcohol policy must balance these two ends: safety and accordance with law.

    One way to do this is to prioritize security in entry and exit of parties to assure that spaces do not become overcrowded, forcing everybody out of that space due to safety concerns and shunting large groups to other party spaces, thereby increasing the chances of other locations being shut down. This is the cycle that repeats itself every weekend, and can be mitigated simply by prioritizing preventative measures to parties getting shut down: security and entrance monitoring, rather than patroling freshman and sophmore dorms. By keeping parties going, fewer officers can actually monitor more people because they are in higher concentrations in fewer locations for the bulk of the night. This point is especially important in locations that are even bigger, such as the Bunker.

  10. Hudson Cavanagh says:

    I also wanted to address one other idea that I think has to be explored via the committee: an amnesty rule in situations where danger if freely reported. My idea would be to incentivize the introduction of Public Safety in any and all dangerous situations, where extra training would be very valuable towards the ends addressed above. Basically, those freely allowing and asking for help for themselves or others would not be necessarily subject to discipline for the action that puts themselves in danger, although it would be recorded for Public Safety’s data collection for future reference in my conception.

    The basic function of the citation system as I understand it is more for monitoring those whose drinking or behavior appears to be problematic rather than discipline people for individual instances in which they are in possession of alcohol, a concern that would still be addressed with an amnesty rule. Amnesty would also allow for more consistent reporting of dangerous drinking, creating information to identity specific problem areas or behaviors that lead to the problem. There will be no panacea policies, but data collection will certainly inform future decisions and should be weighed heavily when considering options to reform the current policy.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think that it’s productive for public safety to be busting most parties and actively seeking out underaged drinkers. It’s common knowledge that most students, including underclassmen, are drinking on the weekends, so punishing those who choose to do so in a more social setting rather than in their dorm doesn’t seem to solve any problems. If public safety is really worried about fire codes and things getting out of hand, I would see no problem with them monitoring the doors at larger parties and enforcing the fire code, and then they would also be nearby if any true issues arise. Hovewer, I think that the emphasis needs to be shifted toward true matters of student safety, rather than busting certain underclassmen for drinking when it is clear that they are not the only ones.
    Honestly, it really is frustrating as a freshman to have so few options. Yes, there is always something going on, but many events are on the exclusive end, like sports team gatherings and smaller upperclassmen parties. There need to be more options for freshmen who want to have fun (within reason) and meet new people, without having to worry that there will be nowhere to go, or that whatever party they hear about will be shut down by public safety. While it seems trivial, I think that if Middlebury wants to compete successfully with its peer institutions, the nightlife needs to improve. People care about these things, and Middlebury has lots of wonderful things to offer, but many other schools provide excellent academics and a tight-knit community, but also have an enjoyable nightlife. If I had known how bad the party scene was going to be, it would definitely have been a factor in my decision.
    I hope the situation will improve, and that the task force will be realistic about what policies are truly needed for safety and avoiding issues with the police, with the focus of improving student life.

  12. Michael Oster says:

    I know this is a little late, but I really wanted to comment on this issue. When I first looked at Middlebury, we were leading a national movement of college presidents to try to get the drinking age changed. This was a progressive movement that tried to find a way to eliminate the poor decisions that are made with drinking. If you ask most college students today why they drink, 9 times out of 10 the answer you are going to get is “I drink to get drunk.” This is the unfortunate mindset that our generation has formed and I think that is what we should really try to focus on. I agree the other commenters that ruthlessly shutting down all parties with alcohol at them and giving a citation to an underage student for holding a cup of beer only encourages students to take their drinking underground. I don’t think anyone can argue that taking an enormous amount of shots in your dorm room before leaving to avoid drinking in front of public safety is a good thing. But unfortunately, this is the poor decision that students today are being forced to make and I do feel that it comes from the fact that we as a college community cannot hold responsible parties without being reprimanded.

    Moving forward as a college community, I think we all need to focus on encouraging people to make good decisions about alcohol. We need to encourage people to have a beer over the course of an hour at a party instead of taking 14 shots in their dorm room before hand. In my opinion, the way to do this ease restrictions on beer at parties. I don’t believe that if someone is casually sipping a beer at a party, or if someone is serving beer at a party, they should be punished. These people are making smart decisions about alcohol. Beer is much safer than hard alcohol and those individuals who limit themselves to just beer are keeping themselves out of the hospital and more under control.

    Everyone should recognize that drinking will always be a part of college culture. It is not a part of everyone’s college experience, but each individual has their choice to participate in that aspect of college culture if they want to. Instead of trying to eradicate drinking, which has proved time and time again to only make the problem worse, we need to encourage smart drinking. Will it come with mistakes and will there be bumps along the road? Yes; but every good change needs time to settle in. The actions we take now are not going to change Middlebury for us, but hopefully we can change Middlebury into a place that is open about drinking and where smart decisions are made about drinking for future students.

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