Last Friday, several Friends of the Ave were written up for drinking in the dorms by two CAs. To be fair, the students who were written up for underage possession of alcohol in the dorms were violating Northwestern’s Student Code of Conduct, and the CAs were simply doing their job by enforcing and executing the rules. But the recent incident highlights numerous fundamental problems with Northwestern’s alcohol policy, the role of CAs in dormitories, and the drinking culture in general at Northwestern University.
The main problem lies in a University alcohol policy that is utterly incapable of dealing with the exigent realities of student underage drinking. No matter how valorous the obliteration of underage drinking at Northwestern might seem, the harsh truth is that underage students who want to drink in college will drink in college. Considering the extraordinary amount of resources it would take for the University to annihilate underage drinking on campus, it stands to reason that Northwestern should alter its alcohol policy to focus on preventing and protecting students from the dangers of excessive drinking, instead of promoting a policy that fosters increasingly dangerous underage drinking practices and mistrustful student-CA relations.
As the policy stands, no student under the age of 21 can even be in the presence of alcohol on campus. Such an inflexible and intolerant policy forces students to either drink copious amounts in their locked rooms to hide from their CAs, or else head north to the Frats, where hedonism and free alcohol reign supreme. Both results pose exceedingly dangerous risks to student health. The policy promotes binge drinking by forcing students to hole up in their rooms with a handle of Smirnoff instead of moderately sipping on less-potent alcohol in the open, or else driving students to the Frats, where the only control on how much you drink is how long the line stretches.
Besides promoting binge drinking, the current NU alcohol policy also leaves students unprotected from the harmful effects of excessive drinking brought on by the policy in the first place. How can CAs monitor the health of the students they are supposed to be protecting if underage students are forced to lock their doors from CAs in order to drink? It is impossible for a CA to communicate with students in order to promote responsible drinking or provide necessary medical attention if the students are hidden from view or lost in the sweaty mass of human bodies in the basement of a Frat. Without a medical amnesty policy in place, students are at an even greater risk from excessive drinking.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the current policy is how little uniformity there is among how CAs choose to enforce the rules, considering the extent to which Northwestern relies on CAs to enforce its alcohol policy. Most CAs at NU do a fantastic job balancing their duties as enforcers, protectors, and positive role models. But so many different CAs have so many different ways of dealing with the alcohol policy that it is almost impossible to discern any sort of comprehensive campus-wide philosophy. On top of that, certain CAs, instead of upholding the Division of Student Affairs‘ requirement that CAs “exhibit a positive attitude and high level of personal integrity in order to serve as positive role models for their residents,” display exactly the base and dangerous behavior that they are supposed to guard against.
Underage drinking is the reality of life at Northwestern. Instead of promoting an ignorant policy that creates more problems than it corrects, the University must take steps to address the problems raised by underage drinking in a relevant and meaningful way. In order to promote responsible and healthy drinking, and diminish the destructive effects of binge-drinking, Northwestern should adopt a policy akin to Washington University’s “Open Door” policy, which allows for responsible drinking so long as a student’s door is open for a WashU RA. An “Open Door” concept allows for increased scrutiny for CAs, improved relations between CAs and students, and an overarching sense that, if you act like an adult, you should be treated like an adult. Another potential improvement to Northwestern’s drinking culture would be an on-campus bar, which would allow for the University to promote responsible drinking in a controlled area, a move that would also decrease the risk of evoking the ire of Evanston residents with loud conversations about bl**jobs.
According to President Schapiro, in an interview with North by Northwestern, “We all know prohibition doesn’t work… but I do think our campuses would be safer if we had an 18-year-old drinking age.” It is useless, not to mention dangerous, to continue adhering to the current policy. If, to quote the Northwestern University student handbook, “Rules are an organized set of principles designed and written for the common good, put forth by those who care for the community,” why hasn’t Northwestern University instituted a new alcohol policy written for the common good in order to benefit the common good?