Prohibition Shouldn’t Be Our Mission

Update, as of March 15, 2017: SSDP recently met with the Dean of Students, Adriana di Bartolo; the Director of Health Education, Renee Pabst; and the Assistant Director of Residential Life, Anders Van Minter. They confirmed that the Good Samaritan Policy is still in effect and applies to all scenarios that involve drug and alcohol use when EMS is called. We appreciate their clarification on this matter and hope to see a change in policies that is reflective of their supposed interest in student’s physical health and mental wellbeing. Dean di Bartolo mentioned the declining mental health of students on campus as a potential factor for alcohol abuse. Our recommendation, then, is simple and effective: increase the number of mental health professionals available to students. 
Dear Interim President Jonathan Chenette and President-Elect Elizabeth Bradley,

We are the members of Vassar’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), speaking on behalf of the student body in regards to issues surrounding alcohol and other drug use on campus. SSDP’s mission is to “mobilize and empower young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive Drug War policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth.” In the interest of student health and wellbeing, we would like to bring to your attention the new Vassar Party Rules instated in the fall of 2016. We find these rules to not only be in conflict with Vassar’s ideological core, but also impractical and even dangerous.

Under the new rules, there is a 9 party limit with 25 students allowed at each, equating to 225 people being able to party on any given night. There are 2,435 students at Vassar with an estimated 1,217 of legal drinking age. Though not all of these students drink, it’s safe to assume that a large proportion of them do. This policy is both unrealistic, considering the size of the student body, and unfair to students who are of legal drinking age. Furthermore, it is unclear what effect a ban on hard liquor will have on students using the Good Samaritan Policy. Will students be punished if they are in possession of or have consumed hard liquor and decide to call EMS? Will this fear prevent them from calling when there is an emergency? If the administration is going to continue with these excessively harsh new rules, they must stress that the Good Samaritan Policy will continue to apply in all scenarios. This, however, has yet to be stressed. In a conversation in a party class held on September 12th, 2016, Anders van Minter, Assistant Director of Residential Life, said that the outcome may differ depending on if there were many bottles of hard liquor, a beer bong, et al. versus only a bottle in sight. This is inconsistent with the terms of the Good Samaritan Policy, which should cover all alcohol and drug violations. It is outrageous that this is not a primary concern of the administration. At the very least, the administration should ensure that students are fully aware of this policy’s continuation (assuming that it will continue, because in the case that it won’t, that is an entirely different conversation).

We would also like to point out that these new rules do not align with the ideological arguments presented by the Good Samaritan Policy, as stated in the Student Handbook, page 104, Section C4: “The safety and health of students is the overriding concern of the college.” If this is true, then the college should certainly reconsider its new rules. Under these new prohibitions, students will be encouraged to:

  • Binge drink in their rooms before going to parties, ultimately heightening the risk to their health and safety, especially when moving around campus.
  • Party in dorms, greatly affecting the residential dorm culture, increasing noise issues, and encouraging underaged, unsupervised alcohol consumption.
  • Move off campus to avoid these rules. Off campus students will not have access to the life saving treatment of VCEMS and will be subjected to dealing with local law enforcement. In addition, with more students living off campus the school with lose money and a valuable sense of community.

We believe that these consequences can be avoided, and the intention of the Good Samaritan Policy can be preserved. College is a time for students to take on the responsibilities of being an adult, and that includes being able to manage a safe relationship with alcohol. We understand that Vassar isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a lawless state, but the student body should have the opportunity to self-govern, or at the very least be in conversation with the administration on this issue. The Vassar College Regulations for the 2016-2017 school year states under the Student’s Rights, Privileges, and Responsibilities section (Part A, Article III, Section I) that, “Students are entitled to freedom of discussion, inquiry, and expression in and outside of classes…to privacy of their personal lives, properties and records (subject to the provisions of law and to the duties of faculty members and academic and administrative officers of the college as defined by college policies) and to participation in the establishment of college policies directly affecting their interests through the means of student self-government and representation on appropriate college committees.” As an institution that touts its culture of free expression, shouldn’t students have a say?

We believe that these new party rules resemble, to a concerning extent, the tyrannical drug prohibition laws of our nation. As both a society and a college, we should be working towards ending the War on Drugs, not perpetuating policies that support prohibition. Prohibition historically has been and continues to be ineffective. Yet, we have still to learn from alcohol prohibition, continued cannabis prohibition, and both the illegality and criminalization of drugs in the U.S. Alcohol and drug abuse did not stop as a result of these attempts. For example, after the 18th Amendment was passed banning alcohol, people did not immediately halt their consumption of all alcoholic beverages. Instead, an entire criminal industry bloomed. Bootlegging, speakeasies, and mob violence erupted on a massive scale, and all the while people abused alcohol as much, as if not more, than before. On the other hand, relaxed drug policies encourage responsible use. For instance, the rate of marijuana use among the Dutch is one of the lowest in Europe, despite their lax drug laws regarding marijuana sale and consumption [1]. Drug use has failed to decline despite our nation’s laws; if anything it has increased.  

A different but related issue is abstinence-only sex education. It doesn’t work, and it isn’t the proper, educated approach to the issue. Abstinence-only sex education does not have its intended effect; youth who receive abstinence-only sex education are just as likely to engage in intercourse as those who receive sex education promoting the use of contraception. Furthermore, abstinence-only sex education has been found to have negative consequences, resulting in children being less likely to use contraception when they engage in intercourse [2]. We are presented with a frighteningly comparable and inadequate situation in terms of approaches to drug-related issues in the U.S. court of law and apparently, within the college’s policies and regulations. By promoting a policy of abstinence from alcohol use (especially hard alcohol), the administration is failing to recognize that students will engage in this behavior regardless, and, by doing so, the administration encourages alcohol abuse rather than  promoting measures to ensure responsible use.

We understand that the administration has identified its chief reasons for implementing this policy: fire safety and student alcohol consumption to the level of alcohol poisoning, resulting in frequent EMS calls and high rates of hospitalization. We appreciate and share your concern for the health of Vassar students. However, these new party rules and regulations are not targeting the identified problems, and actively make Vassar’s campus less safe. We particularly disagree with the provisions limiting registered parties to a maximum of 25 people and banning hard liquor from all parties. The new Vassar Party Rules are unsafe and unjust, and we hope that our presented alternatives, which would better promote the health and safety of students on campus while addressing the administration’s concerns, will be considered.

These are our recommendations to improve the policies:

  • If EMS is activated, they should be blind to hard alcohol and the number of people at a party.
  • Increase the number of people allowed at a party to 50, which is what was allowed last year and was reasonable (25 guests per host, 2 hosts allowed)
  • Repeal the ban on hard liquor and additionally, consider repealing the ban on kegs.
  • Do not require security or campus patrol to constantly monitor parties throughout the night by checking in on them hourly
  • Collaboratively brainstorm ways to further engage students in the process of making rules that govern student behavior

We also believe it is important to consider which group is the intended target of the new policies. If the target group is mainly those under 21, then policies directed at the TAs and THs do not primarily address that group. In addition, no chance has been given to see how new programming created by students this year will work to reduce alcohol on campus. Examples of such programming include the pre-org “Big Night In”, in which the school hosts weekly alcohol-free events that are offer fun, alcohol-free activities. By focusing on these events rather than the new Party Policy rules, the administration could be more effective in preventing excess and underage drinking on campus. We believe that the new Party Policy rules infringe upon the freedoms that students of age should have to drink, as they deem responsible, and to engage in social gatherings without fear of punishment or surveillance.

In conclusion, we would like to believe that the Vassar administration and its students are on the same team. We want Vassar to have a safe and just future for all its students. However, the new proposed party policies do not support this goal. Out of respect for the student body, we request that the administration reconsider these new policies. To demonstrate student support on the matter, we have attached a petition for members of the student body to sign:

https://docs.google.com/a/vassar.edu/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfcXuD4Jr0Y-Hd_WWWZ2XpfmF3Cj0POv3mmnTysgDhtQB22kw/viewform

Thank you for your dedication and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Vassar College

 

Footnotes:

  1. “Dutch among lowest cannabis users in Europe-report”
  2. “The Truth About Abstinence-Only Programs”

 

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