United We Stand: Reactions to the New Social Policy
“What you do here tonight will show what you are,” Student Government Association President Panida Pollawit ’12 warned her peers. Hundreds of students filed into the Vernon Social Center on campus last night for the “Open Forum to Discuss the New Social Policy.” And as Panida predicted, it showed that Trinity has a lot more to worry about than an alcohol policy.
The controversy began with an unexpected email from Fred Alford, the Dean of Students, two weeks before Spring Term began, outlining a strict new policy on “Social Events with Alcohol” and “Social Hosting.” Previously, students could depend on Greek organizations to provide parties every Thursday through Saturday complete with free, if awful, beer. Now the administration is imposing a policy where organizations, Greek and others, must register any events with alcohol. Guests will be limited based on building capacity. Students will be carded and wrist banded. Completely shocked, students turned to Facebook and Twitter to express their outrage at a policy that was going to have a huge impact on social life at Trinity with virtually no student input.
The much-anticipated forum drew hundreds of students, many arriving early to grab seats and not stand in the crowd in back. Fraternities and sororities sat in large blocks of solidarity, fulfilling the objective of their brotherhoods and sisterhoods. After all, this new policy all but directly attacks Greek Life. But what does this say about Trinity as a whole? We come up in arms when free, uncontrolled drinking is taken away. But when students are assaulted on campus, when racism and homophobia occur, when Trinity’s squash team loses its thirteen-year winning streak – hardly a peep.
But in this instance, the administration has lost a lot of ground. The forum’s panel consisted of Amy DeBaun, Director of Campus Life, Nora Huth, Associate Director of Student Life and Leadership, and Ann Reuman, Associate Dean of Students. The students were quick to note that President Jimmy Jones was absent from the forum. He was “on the road raising money.” That drew even more anger. Dean Alford dominated the discussion and his convoluted comments hardly explained the policy in detail. “We will make a change in the tone of social life on campus,” he said, “focusing on a small subset of people.” Students filed in line to ask questions. “Why is the majority being punished for the actions of a minority?” one student asked. And indeed that question still burns in everyone’s mind. “We have a higher opinion of Trinity students to behave responsibly,” Dean Alford said. That higher opinion doesn’t hold much in their eyes. All they can see are the websites that have ranked Trinity College amongst the “least rigorous” and “bro-est” schools. Trinity’s reputation exceeds itself as a party school and the Board of Trustees has taken notice.
It was the Board that instigated the change in policy so rapidly after recent events on campus caught their attention. Four years ago, the average number of students who needed to be “transported” to the hospital for drunkenness and alcohol poisoning was around thirteen to fourteen people in the fall semester. In fall 2010 that number increased to twenty-nine and this past fall it skyrocketed to forty. In light of these numbers, it is important to recognize that this is the first year that AlcoholEdu, an online alcohol prevention program freshmen were required to take, was not required so that the money used towards the program could be used towards different efforts of alcohol prevention. It might be a good sign that that should be reintegrated. Even further, perhaps regular alcohol education should be established. As part of the policy, organizations must have registered “Social Hosts.” Hosts go through a three-hour training process with TIPS, the Training for Intervention ProcedureS, a global program for responsible service, sale, and consumption of alcohol. Many students may forget the lessons from AlcoholEdu and a refresher course could greatly improve the poor statistics in hospital transports.
Whatever the administration’s faults, the students are not faultless either. The beginning of the forum was an embarrassing display of the students’ immaturity with the situation. As they waited for the forum to begin, it was announced that the microphones weren’t working. Students booed at Dean Alford. Scores of applause followed every student comment, and almost every statement voiced accusation after accusation, blame after blame, outrage after outrage – all directed at Trinity College and its administration, and consequently, Dean Alford. It recalled Comedy Central Roasts, but far less funny. When Dean Alford listed incidents of dangerous episodes of inebriated students taken to the hospital, ripples of laughter followed. The only discussions inspired were side comments made to each other, or students calling out insults and interrupting the patient students waiting to ask their questions.
The one voice of reason from the night came from sophomore Bryan Farb. “Never have I felt so proud to be a Trinity student than on this night,” he began, followed by a agreement of cheers. “But we must work with the administration. For us to change this policy we need to do it constructively. We can’t look at them as enemies,” he said. He called upon Dean Alford to start a charter committee that included students in the discussion of adjusting the policy. “I am looking for a way to change this policy and I must make my voice heard,” he said. Rounds of shouts and applause lauded him for his daring. But the rest of the forum continued on the earlier path of arraignment.
Did the students actually hear what Bryan Farb said? Compromise, working with the administration to get what we want. That is the only way to change the policy. We claim we are responsible adults, but how can we been seen as such if all we do is yell and blame the school and not take the initiative to make change? The forum turned out to be a wasted night. As the students repeated that no student input was used in the creation of the policy, no input was given at the forum that could be used productively to alter that policy. One hopes that Dean Alford will take what was said and repeat it to the Board of Trustees. And one would hope that they would listen and make those changes. But what Trinity students said last night showed that we are not responsible adults. Not yet.