I met Rob LaMoy shortly after he returned from an exchange program at Swarthmore and then did a presentation about his experience for the Board of Trustees. I was immediately taken by his honesty and insightful views of social life on campus, and I wanted to learn more. I asked him to write a guest post this week—and I’m glad I did. Please chime in with your thoughts about this important topic.
Last spring, I was fortunate enough to study at Swarthmore College for a semester through the Middlebury-Swarthmore domestic exchange program. One of the striking differences I noticed between the two schools was how openly “Swatties” of all ages consumed alcohol without facing disciplinary action.
When I returned to Middlebury last September, I submitted an Op-Ed to the Campus about how Swarthmore enforces its alcohol policy. One reader thought I should take a look at the differences between Pennsylvania and Vermont law to better understand why Swarthmore and Middlebury students are treated so differently. This is a valid critique; still, I don’t believe that Middlebury’s hands are completely tied by the law, and I am concerned about the stifling effects our current policies have had on student social life.
Earlier this year, I witnessed a group of first-years sprint out of a social house because it was rumored that Public Safety was passing through. These particular first-years were still on their orientation week, and as such, they had no idea that they were allowed to stay as long as they were not holding drinks. I was inside the social house, unaware of their presence, so it is hard to say if any of them were drinking.
When I thought about it further, I could not help but wonder: were they drinking, or terrified of Public Safety, or both? And should we really devote such a massive portion of our institutional resources toward stamping out moderate drinking?
Middlebury’s student alcohol studies have shown that potentially destructive drinking patterns have worsened in the past few years. Halfway through the 2008 fall semester, 40 percent of first-years engaged in “high-risk” drinking at least once in the two weeks prior to when they were polled. At the same point in 2010, the figure had increased to 55 percent of all first-years.
Some might read this data as evidence that a more rigorous enforcement policy is needed to reduce overall student drinking, and that a more hands-off enforcement policy could exacerbate the problem when students realize that they can drink as much as they want without having to check over their shoulders for Public Safety. But it is important to note that there must be other variables in this equation, because Middlebury’s policies have changed very little in recent years, and yet there seems to be more drinking happening on campus.
This increase in alcohol consumption is troubling, especially when paired with hazy standards of how students are supposed to conduct themselves when they drink. For example, in 2009, I was at an Atwater dance on Halloween Night, called Baile Terror, which was shut down by Public Safety. The reason for the shutdown was that some students were too drunk to wait in line to get into the dance and decided to give security a hard time. Our campus never had a serious discussion about what role students played in this incident, mostly because many assumed that the security officers hired by the College didn’t handle the situation well.
Several parties have been shut down every year since then for similar reasons. Most incidents, such as one last October that resulted in a broken window at the Bunker, usually only involve a few students.
My guess is that the sentiment of most students on these matters is similar to a comment posted on Middlebury Confessional: “BROS: STOP BREAKING SHIT. ADMINISTRATION: BACK OFF.” Unfortunately, the dysfunctional aspects of Middlebury’s drinking culture go well beyond “bros [just ‘bros’?] breaking shit.” Moreover, it seems likely that some level of destructive behavior will persist, even if the administration decides to “back off.” My point is that the dominant drinking culture here is something that a lot of students either participate in or tolerate, even if they are not necessarily the ones who are kicking over trashcans in front of Atwater Hall (to name one example).
On that note, I would like to conclude with a few questions. In the context of alcohol use at Middlebury, which is more influential, in your view—institutional policy or student drinking culture? Is Middlebury’s drinking culture a problem? (Leave comments by clicking here.)