Drinking policy reflects idealized campus instead of reality

On Friday, Oct. 25, Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb sent an email to all St. Olaf students asking them to make wise decisions about consumption and comportment over the course of Halloween week. Citing the proximity of Northfield trick-or-treaters, the reality of binge drinking on college campuses and the recent presence of Molly, a form of ecstasy, Eaton-Neeb appealed to students to be careful.

“Please keep in mind that you can make responsible decisions regarding if, how and when to consume,” Eaton-Neeb wrote. “Further, please be attentive to friends and take responsibility for what is happening around you.”

“I am appealing to the best in all of us with [three] simple requests,” Eaton-Neeb wrote. “First, use your head and decide before you go out what you will or won’t accept or do and then stick to it. Second, commit yourself and your friends to look out for each other and keep dangerous behaviors at bay. Finally, please remember that a reasonable choice is to enjoy this festive time without alcohol at all.”

At the conclusion of her email, Eaton-Neeb expressed that, while she expects criticism from some members of the St. Olaf and surrounding communities for sending such a message to students, the safety of students is more important than potential negative feedback.

“There is too much at stake to do anything but this, and I trust that you care about this as much as others at the college and I do,” she wrote.

I absolutely care about this issue as much as my dean and my fellow Oles to whom she refers. I also commend her for sending an email that, as she insinuated, might spark some criticism. While I am almost always a proponent of lively dissention, debate and discussion, I also know that a message to students about their safety in very real and present situations should never be a target for criticism.

The fact that Eaton-Neeb expected this criticism is a reflection of a problem that has now become ensconced in St. Olaf culture. I refer to this phenomenon as the Big Drinking Lie.

On this dry campus, the majority of my friends and acquaintances drink alcohol on a regular basis. They do so in their dorm rooms and their houses. They keep bottles in their refrigerators and underneath their beds. They get together with their friends to drink on campus. And, as long as they do so without wreaking havoc in their corridors, the residence life staff leaves them in peace.

These same students, after a weekend of sneaky drinking, wake up on Monday morning, attend class, complete their homework, meet with groups to work on projects, study, engage in co-curricular activities and spend quality time with their friends. While there are always exceptions, most Oles seem to know how to drink responsibly and keep their priorities straight. So why the Big Drinking Lie?

There is a perception that we will receive more financial support from donors as a “dry campus.” Of course, money is an issue. It is always an issue, and it should be. It has to be. But while we are infinitely grateful to the generous and, presumably, older and more conservative donors, at what expense do we accept their money? Why do we continue to put up the dry campus façade?

For the most part, the policies in place at this institution reflect its values. We leave our laptops unguarded and our dorm rooms unlocked on a daily basis because we believe in our honor code. Professors leave classrooms during exams because they believe we won’t cheat. Most of us even follow the one-piece-of-fruit rule when leaving Stav Hall. But students who want to drink on campus choose to do so because our dry campus rule reflects a policy, not a widely held value.

A college filled with bright, caring, creative people who pride themselves on honor, honesty and community should be able to face itself candidly in the mirror. St. Olaf is not a dry campus, and pretending otherwise is now nothing more than a formality. An open, honest dialogue about alcohol in the St. Olaf community would lay the foundation for a healthier attitude toward drinking, open the door to a more trusting, adult relationship between the college and its students and affirm – not negate – St. Olaf’s honor.

Ashley Belisle ’15 belisle@stolaf.edu is from Mahtomedi, Minn. she majors in English and Spanish with a management studies concentration.