As a community facilitator in LaFayette Hall last year, I came in daily contact with students who questioned, and pushed, the limits of the University’s alcohol policy. One of the most frequent criticisms of the University’s code was that it gave CFs excessively free rein to peer into residents’ lives and enforce a draconian policy. In some, or even many, cases these charges of inappropriate CF oversight of residents’ actions may have been well-founded. Truly, college students should not have to be watched every night and day for signs of illegal and dangerous activity. They should not have to give up their rights to privacy when they enter a residence hall.
But, importantly, they should be able to control their behavior to help create a safe living environment for their fellow residents.
Unfortunately, many freshmen – myself included – come to college flush with the conviction that some higher power has bestowed upon them the right to make their own choices, discover their own limitations and generally escape the constrictions of life at home, regardless of how those actions affect others. Alcohol inevitably becomes a part of this experimentation, which is almost expected in our society.
A problem arises, however, when this personal experimentation begins to affect others. Underage drinking in residence halls presents a safety hazard. Like any underground activity, people who have to hide out to drink in residence halls will go to any length to avoid having CFs or University Police officers discover their activities. That avoidance can lead directly to major problems, such as when a student needs medical attention, but residents hesitate calling a CF. Since the underage drinking that I witnessed last year most often occurred in large quantities, I also believe irresponsible drinking leads to a safety problem for residential communities as a whole. Speaking as a former official of the University responsible for the lives and property of hundreds of students, dozens of residents pounding beers from a keg does not present an ideal safety situation.
Our perspective in Lafayette Hall was that residents’ safety was our top priority, a policy shared throughout the Community Living and Learning Center system. If underage drinkers were unwilling to acknowledge that the safety of other residents was an important goal, we reminded them that they were also bound by D.C. law and their own signatures on their lease agreements to forswear drinking in residence halls until they reached 21 years of age.
Efforts to enforce those rules and hold freshmen to their commitments understandably led to resentment among those same students. As a freshman, it is hard to understand why University officials come down so hard and so restrictively on underage drinking, just as new students are taking on their independence. Truly, many freshmen could probably handle drinking before they are 21, but the law and University policy still prohibit underage consumption of alcohol.
However, beyond the issue of safety, the point of restricting underage drinking in residence halls is to reinforce among GW’s population the belief that everyone makes certain commitments and has certain obligations and standards to live up to throughout life. As freshmen at GW heading into adulthood, one obligation is not to drink in residence halls or else face the consequences if you do.
The writer, a senior, is a former CF and copy editor of The Hatchet.