The question posed to our editorial staff was: How should Lehigh’s administration deal with underage alcohol consumption?
Read their responses below.
Benjamin Mumma, Class of 2010
For Lehigh, the difficulty in this situation lies with the fact that it has a fully-accredited police force, sworn in by the state of Pennsylvania. As such, they are required to enforce the laws of the state over any policies that the University sets with regard to underage drinking.
With that said, Lehigh’s goal should be to create a system where underage students can drink responsibly without fear of legal troubles. Certainly, Lehigh does need to react to and set consequences for drinking that is dangerous to the individual in question or others.
From my point of view, the issue that students and administrators do not see eye-to-eye on is what drinking is defined as dangerous. I am reminded particularly of one conversation I overheard in a finance recitation last semester. I won’t belabor you with the details, but one girl was wearing the same dress as the night before, and she was the one person involved in the conversation who did remember what happened.
Certainly, the administration would see drinking enough to black out as dangerous to the individual, others, and to Lehigh’s reputation. But to students, this practice can be commonplace in some social circles. Students, to some extent, have a distorted view of what is responsible drinking, and what should be prevented. Lehigh has several interests that merge at this point, which can make things difficult to handle properly: student safety, state law, and Lehigh’s reputation are all affected by how administrators handle this issue.
So how does Lehigh measure up? When all of the issues at hand are considered, they do fairly well. Sure, they’ve messed things up. The frequent “busting” of fraternities is often unnecessary. It drives parties off campus into a less-safe environment, and only makes the hill seem more dangerous and less attractive to students. As students, we can certainly list a great deal of times when we have perceived the University to have erred on alcohol and safety matters.
That being said, there are things they can do to improve the way they deal with alcohol. President Gast should sign the Amethyst Initiative, and Lehigh should join the push for a drinking age of 18. Such a law would make it incredibly simple for Lehigh to deal with alcohol issues on campus.
Second, administrators should work with the police and Lehigh security to establish set reasons for fraternities to be “raided,” and set a policy that police must knock on the door before they enter. While Lehigh owns the houses can enter them at any time, the police should, as a state-run service, have to notify a house’s occupants before entering. This is something Lehigh could set in place, and would provide a more fair system as opposed to cops being able to enter a building for no reason.
Even with these changes, Lehigh can still monitor irresponsible and reckless drinking, and work to control that. The current system though is inefficient at doing that, because time is inevitably spent dealing with people who were drinking responsibly, but were in the wrong place. Signing the Amethyst Initiative and establishing how and why Lehigh Police enter residences would improve the alcohol situation at Lehigh.
David Gritz, Class of 2012
From the vantage point of the Lehigh administration, minimization of risk and maximization of student experience should be the focus of any policy conversation. Considering these metrics, Lehigh should adopt the following three approaches to reduce instances of underage drinking abuse “on campus”.
1) Prevent the worst instances – Using the broken window theory, Lehigh can target the outliers and worst offenders to reduce the net effect of the whole problem. By targeting students involved in recurrent hospital trips, drunken driving, and acts of public disturbance, Lehigh enforcement personnel can cut the worst out of the system. This focused policy will discourage students from engaging in the worst underage activities. Also, reducing the standard variance of underage offenses will discourage students from “breaking all the rules” because the perceived risks are much greater.
2) Use resources for next-best alternatives – Spend some of the extensive enforcement and correctional budget on exciting and extraordinary activities. If Lehigh students had other experiences that were just as “pleasurable” as drinking, they might spend their time on next-best alternatives. For example, if Lehigh offered free scuba diving lessons, showed movies in theaters, or took students on weekend adventures to different cities around the country, students would choose those alternatives. Administrators should spend less time making rules and more time making experiences.
3) Push drinking away from campus – With Lehigh’s “not in my backyard” mindset, controlling consumption can be as easy as pushing it away from campus. By monitoring underclassmen dorms on campus instead of patrolling off-campus houses, the university can save resources and push drinking away from campus. By creating a circle of control, the university will ensure that less students drink on campus.
Trevor Drummond, Class of 2010
When discussing alcohol and kids, I think one really needs to evaluate the situation from two hypothetical angles: the real world, and the perfect world. This is key to understanding why Dr. Alice Petry Gast won’t sign the Amethyst Initiative.
In the real world, the idea of lowering the drinking age to 18 essentially passes the responsibility of handing transition-age young adults from college to high school. If you give a damn about the state of education in this country, (which I know most Lehigh students do not, as most of us, myself included, went to very expensive preparatory schools and public districts where students can read at their age-appropriate level, and can’t fathom a situation where individuals struggle to attain mediocrity), you would understand that the last thing that improving and needy district administrators need is another coming-of-age issue for their older, bigger, and more difficult students.
Let’s, for the sake of argument, talk about the perfect world, in which Lehigh students get their wish, and nearly 100% of the campus is legally able to piss away part of their savings (or their parent’s) to Pennsylvania’s sketch liquor monopoly called Wine & Spirits. Lehigh students have been spoilt, insofar as most universities have barred their student organizations from procuring alcohol on campus-sponsored establishments. In plain speak, the Greeks would probably have to go dry, and those of age (now, everyone) would likely be prevented from keeping alcohol in their dorms. Why? Too many dangerous incidents.
I’ve heard, time and time again, the argument that Lehigh students do the asinine things they do under the golden influence in an effort to hide or conceal their presently illegal actions from the big scary Lehigh police and their Janet Reno tactical assault squads, which surround innocent law-abiding residences and set the children afire. I’ve heard that the reason people “pre-game” (read: binge drink prior to casually drinking) so often and with such force is to avoid being caught by the police; in short, drink the liquor before the police can take it from you. I’ve also heard that students who enjoy themselves too much are afraid of seeking help, because they run the risk of being caught.
Frankly, and more importantly, objectively, this situation is so absurd I have trouble discussing it seriously. Why does the illegality of drinking encourage people to drink more and, thus, put themselves in danger? So, if everyone can now consume legally, does this mean that the side effects of drinking past moderation (sexual and physical assault, property damage, the need to baby-proof sharp corners) will cease to be?
Think about it. At least, at the moment, Lehigh can claim that the incidents where students reenact the bacchanal excesses that only Tyco executives could pull off in their little clubhouses, the administration can say that the situation was a breach of the law, and thus any side effects are merely grace notes to a misdemeanor. Once that layer of absolution is gone, there is nothing to prevent the school to reverse its policy.
The argument that alumni will stop donating is moot – those that would aren’t of the caliber that it would matter, and those that matter are likely not too concerned about today’s students’ opinions – for them, 30 years ago is all that matters, and what Lehigh did for them. Likewise, the demand for admission is far more based in the prestige that a Lehigh education gives – not the amount of colored stripes someone can get at a rainbow party.
Oh, and as for the Lehigh police – don’t get me started. I was at the Hawk’s Nest late one evening, when I witnessed four boys coaxing their friend through male purging (they were asking for hot towels – it was like a birth was taking place), a girl asked me if she could borrow my key card to get into her building (and was too drunk to know that Brodhead isn’t Dravo), and a boy in a near state of paralysis was slumped over and walked in front of a car in front of four police officers – clearly under the influence, and none of them lifted a finger or batted an eyebrow.
My advice is simple – don’t push for Amethyst. Keep tabs on your peers – I have no problem with underage drinking. I have a problem with having my car keyed, or having to babysit my friends. What it comes down to is responsibility – something that, if practiced, might actually make these nonsense pass.
Alyssa Gerety, Class of 2013
Last year, President Gast voiced her concerns with signing the Amethyst Initiative, leaving the administration with fewer options involving cooperation with the Student Senate on the issue of underage alcohol consumption. Vice Provost of Student Affairs, John Smeaton, has acknowledged that the administration takes note to “separate abuse from use”, but it remains to be seen whether this view will be carried out in new policies and events undertaken by the administration. Minimal backlash from students will be seen if the administration assumes this viewpoint in its implementation of policy to curb underage alcohol consumption. The administration must focus on alcohol abuse and the dangers it poses to students, rather than alcohol’s overall use by Lehigh’s underage population.
The Student Senate seems willing to offer student input, and more importantly, wants a more active role in creating discussion and events designed to educate the student body and promote safe and healthy drinking habits – and the administration should grant them this responsibility. Student to student discussion and education will prove far more useful and effective than executive orders by President Gast or harsh University-wide sanctions. The administration should utilize the Senate as an important tool of connection and communication to the student body.
Overall, the administration and the Student Senate must move past the hindrance of signing the Amethyst Initiative and focus on the issue of underage alcohol abuse. The administration should work with the Senate because their cooperation will be key in implementing a solution that both the student body and the administration can appreciate. Together their goal should be to educate the students with safety as a priority, rather than the impractical focus of eliminating underage alcohol consumption altogether.
Brandon Sherman, Class of 2010
The drinking age debate is doomed. The most passionate advocates for reform have three years to make their case. Then one day, they miraculously stop caring, or worse, they join the opposition.
Attrition is not the only problem, of course. There are no new arguments to be made. Compelling statistics overwhelmingly support a 21-year-old drinking age, and the political will for change is non-existent.
However, that the drinking age is and will remain 21 does little to rationalize the way the law has been enforced here at Lehigh. The administration is in the precarious situation of trying to reform our ‘party-school’ image while somehow retaining it – because, well, you can’t put lipstick on a pig.
If candor were the order of the day, President Gast could express skepticism about strictly enforcing a 21-year-old drinking age. Most 18-20 year-olds at Lehigh drink regularly, and the law is hardly a deterrent. But Lehigh is under the yoke of two separate but overlapping police forces: the LUPD and the Bethlehem Police Department. In recent years, the Bethlehem Police have received grants from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Those grants provide the money to pay the small army of cops on bikes that patrol the South Side each fall.
As such, it is difficult for the University to find the right tone with which to address this issue. A more progressive attitude could create the illusion of amnesty for underage drinkers or risk undermining the authority of the police.
To walk this tightrope, the administration should reiterate that its primary concern is the safety and security of Lehigh students – safety from alcohol abuse, to be sure, but also from a tarnished permanent record and from the physical dangers of South Bethlehem.
The LUPD should coordinate with the Bethlehem Police so that underage-drinking citations are handled through the University disciplinary system – not a kangaroo court above a video rental store. The University should then scale back the severity of the punishment for first-time offenders so that students stop fearing the police. With this ironclad partnership between students and law enforcement in place, maybe the Bethlehem Police Department will turn its attention to some “real” problems – like plasma TVs with legs.