Op-Ed | The drinking problem on today’s college campuses
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 08:09
This is a topic I’ve wanted to comment on for a long time, and after reading the top headline for February in the Aug. 28 Daily about the alcohol related problems at last year’s Winter Bash, decided to do so at last. Alcohol consumption is a prevalent problem in today’s college campuses that seriously needs to be addressed, but such a task is easier said than done. First off, it is important to note that alcohol drinking is embedded in American culture. It is no secret that drinking alcohol is popular in the United States. Alcohol has long been the beverage choice for social affairs in this country. Business deals are struck, friendships are made, even marriage proposals are sealed with an alcoholic drink. Even in numerous households, alcohol is often served at the supper table. For young individuals, drinking the first can of beer or glass of wine is often seen as a rite of passage to adulthood. Alcohol holds so much essential value to social circles in the U.S. that few individuals are willing to part with it. Compare this with some cultures in other parts of the world where alcohol drinking is not as popular and at times completely shunned.
Therein lies the ultimate problem that Tufts and other colleges and universities have in tackling student drinking. The important question is how can a university seriously crack down on a problem that stems from an important part of American culture? Unlike other places like Hong Kong, where alcohol drinking is not as prevalent and getting drunk on university grounds is a serious offense that can lead to immediate expulsion, Tufts and other American universities cannot afford this. For starters, a large portion of students that attend Tufts and similar universities either come from cultures that encourage alcohol drinking or from cultures that abhor drinking from which they are trying to escape.
As crazy as it sounds, drinking on campus is seen as a part of young American freedom that cannot be enjoyed in other parts of the world. It is especially hard for a university like Tufts, which relies heavily on tuition money for income and attracts many sons and daughters of affluent or well-to-do households, to crack down on this because cracking down too seriously will result in these students leaving for rival colleges. If one drunken student gets expelled for the first offense, all other drunken students must get expelled and that would mean serious loss of revenue and reputation. This is an economics issue as much as a cultural issue.
No doubt, universities can enact a system of warnings and demerits alongside a strong policy to deter students, especially new students, from heavy drinking, and Tufts has done some of this. Universities can also offer counseling programs to educate students about the dangers of consuming too much alcohol. However, once students are free from the reins of their parents (some of whom actually turn a blind eye to drinking themselves) and teachers, some are still not inclined to listen.
Excessive drinking on campus is still a serious problem and not at all a laughable or ignorable matter. Students can get into serious trouble, end up in the emergency room and risk death after a night of excessive drinking. Should they get into trouble with the law on account of alcohol, students also risk permanently harming their future. The university’s image can still take a hit as well. Stories such as Tufts President Emeritus Lawrence Bacow finding a wasted student on his front lawn early in the morning has the possibility of hurting Tufts’ standing as a responsible member of the community — not to mention the high cost of emergency medical services. Yet the problems continue, and this school year, in spite of high hopes of university officials to be different, is likely to be the same.
Perhaps the solution to the problem should come not from warnings, crackdowns and punishments from the university administration. What is needed is a change in the culture of universities and their students, perhaps even a change in the culture of American society. While at first that may seem impossible, there are definitely ways to do it. Community service and volunteer programs that give students, especially first-year students, a sense of belonging are helpful starters. In this way they can see that they aren’t any different than any other members of the Tufts community, that they actually don’t have a special right or privilege to get seriously drunk and wasted and that they too must be responsible individuals every year of their stay. Secondly, having real faculty members and staff (not college-aged RAs) reside in their own quarters within university dormitories may also have a good effect on the students. The presence of these grown-ups, so long as they enforce dormitory rules, might deter students from acting too wildly in their free time.
Finally, for social outings such as Fall Gala and Winter Bash, perhaps it is a good idea to have increased adult supervision from university faculty and staff. Critics may argue that this sounds too much like high school prom, a loss of individual freedom, living at home, perhaps even (gasp) a shift in American college culture. However, if the university is so serious about cracking down on binge drinking and drug abuse (which is another serious college matter), it is not at all a bad idea to look this way. Studying in university, after all, is not so much supposed to be a wildly fun break from the rules but rather a proper rite to being a responsible grown-up. Perhaps it is time that students realize this.
Jong Wai Tommee is a 2011 alumnus of the Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. He can be reached at email@example.com.