By: Dan Degerman
According to the Chicago Tribune, a family of a deceased college student filed a lawsuit against Wabash College in Indiana last week. The young student was found dead after a fraternity party in 2008. His family holds the college partially responsible, arguing that the institution’s alcohol policy contributed to the death of their son. Wabash applied what it called a “Gentlemen’s Rule,” which the attorney of the family describes as “vague and ineffective.” While this case has yet to unfold, the point of who holds the responsibility for the young man’s death may be argued infinitely.
C.W. Post receives its share of criticism for its alcohol policy, albeit, in the other direction. Students often complain that the rules here are excessively rigorous and that they should be reviewed. Yet, if C.W. Post’s administration wants to avoid the mess that Wabash is in, it may be wise to await a federal change of the alcohol laws. Until then, however, there are some peculiarities in our college’s alcohol policy that are worthy of debate.
One notion the Residence Life staff at this school perpetuates is that students over 21 years of age may not have alcohol in their room if their roommates are not of drinking age. To investigate this, I referred to the Student Handbook 09-10. Here is the rule on the matter: “Persons over 21 may possess alcoholic beverages in moderate amounts (see “c” below) in their individual residence hall rooms or suites…” Notice that it says “individual,” it does not mention if the presence of an under-age roommate changes the circumstances. Since single rooms are not available to the general population at C.W. Post, and the schools reserves the right to pair students with whomever it decides, one could assume that the right to possess alcohol remains for a person of age regardless of the roommate’s age.
There are two points in possible reservation of this. The first: “No person under 21 may acquire, possess, consume or be in the presence of any alcoholic beverage on the Campus.” The hazy language of this rule should confirm our interpretation of the previous rule rather than contradict it. To “be in presence” of an “alcoholic beverage on campus” leaves us to wonder what that exactly constitutes. Is it in the same room? The same facility? The vicinity to alcohol seems irrelevant as long as it is not consumed in the presence of a person below 21.
The second point is referred to as “c” in the initial citation, which describes the allowed amount of alcohol as “no more than one or two people can reasonably and responsibly consume during a specified period of time.” Again the language is quite vague. Let us however try to define this amount. For instance, one should “reasonably” be allowed to possess a bottle of liquor. Even though two people can hardly consume “responsibly,” it should be understood that generally people do not intend to drink a bottle of hard liquor in one intensive session.
According to a generic blood alcohol content calculator, a person of 170 pounds, who is a frequent drinker, and drinks 12 beers over 8 hours would have an estimated B.A.C. of 0.097 percent. A study at Virginia Tech describes the symptoms of intoxication at this level as moderate. Judging from this, we may infer that an individual of legal age should be allowed to store 24 cans of beer.
Interestingly enough, some schools have specified the amount of alcohol students are allowed to keep to avoid misunderstandings. For example, Iona College allows its students of age to keep a bottle of hard liquor or a maximum of 30 cans of beer in their room. Even more interesting is the fact that C.W. Post’s rules are so unclear. Even though we have established some theoretical guidelines, any Residence Life staff could claim these our wrong and explain what the rules “really say.”
Reportedly, the right of interpretation spans as far as to authorize the staff to fine students simply for having empty cans of beer in their trash.
There are even unofficial rules in existence only the Residence Life staff knows about. These rules apparently state that Residence Life staff may order students to pour out any alcohol in their possession. Meanwhile, the Student Handbook only says that illegal substances may be confiscated and not returned. This may appear a marginal difference, but one feels quite violated when staff commands you to pour out 30 cans of unopened beer by hand.
The federal laws on alcohol have their own flaws. A few years ago, 120 college presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative, calling for a review of this country’s alcohol laws. The president of our university was not among these, and maybe this is too much to hope for. Yet, I would think that college, founded on liberal beliefs, should at the very least not perpetuate an environment where rules are so vague that students, in every corner, are subject to the authority’s own interpretation of the rules.
The elite colleges aspire to be meritocracies according to Greek philosophic tradition. At C.W. Post, we appear to strive towards an autocracy, where the police make their own laws.