“Present and aware” policy places students at risk

St. Olaf takes great pride in being a dry campus. Because of this, the college does what it can to minimize alcohol consumption, including punishing sober bystanders. Part of St. Olaf’s alcohol policy reads, “Students may receive a lesser sanction if it is determined they were present and aware of the activity when an alcohol policy violation took place, but were not hosting the gathering, possessing or consuming alcohol.” The college hopes that this will encourage students to either remove themselves from the situation or report the alcohol to a Junior Counselor (JC) or Resident Assistant (RA).

Some might say that this is a generous policy, considering St. Olaf could very well punish anyone in the presence of alcohol with the same severity as those consuming it. I understand what St. Olaf is hoping to accomplish with this policy, but I have some serious problems with it.

It is not a secret to anyone that students drink on campus. According to St. Olaf’s website, 78 percent of students have admitted to consuming alcohol on campus. Since the college is well aware of the prevalence of alcohol consumption, it should be most interested in the well-being of its students instead of maintaining its policy. By punishing sober bystanders at parties, St. Olaf discourages safe drinking. Having a sober friend with you at a party ensures a degree of safety: they can look after you, keep you safe and make sure that you actually make it home. St. Olaf’s “present and aware” policy discourages this practice and therefore puts students at an increased risk of danger when drinking.

To maintain its reputation as a dry campus, I understand that St. Olaf probably needs to keep this clause in their policy. And though the policy commends students for abstaining from alcohol – “… the college recognizes the positive choice of students to abstain from alcohol use” – I would implore the institution not to take any action against sober bystanders in order to promote safe drinking and campus safety.

This policy further ostracizes those students at St. Olaf who choose not to drink. Partying is a part of the college experience and this policy discourages students from safely experiencing this. Punishing those students who attend parties to socialize and who responsibly choose not to drink only makes it harder for those students to feel included. Students should not be punished for trying to socialize. I have friends who already feel that they’re missing out by not drinking, and to further dissuade them from going out seems cruel.

There is contention about having a dry campus, but I’ve always respected that the college wishes to promote a vibrant intellectual environment without the distractions that accompany excessive drinking. The “present and aware” clause of the alcohol policy is not only detrimental to the safety of those students who choose to drink, but it also socially cripples students who choose not to drink. It is a policy that needs to exist for the institution’s reputation, but for the well-being of the students it is a policy that need never be carried out.

John McDaniel ’20 (mcdani3@stolaf.edu) is from Waukesha, Wis. His major is undecided.