Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Straight from print: New “damp” campus policy goes into effect

Students, administrators evaluate alcohol program’s pilot semester

Straight from print: New “damp” campus policy goes into effect

This article originally appeared in The Eagle’s December 9 special edition.

For many AU students over the age of 21, not being able to consume alcohol on campus may have been a turnoff from living in a residence hall. However, a new pilot program this semester aims to provide these students with the opportunity to exercise their freedom to drink.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, a new policy allowing alcohol within on-campus residence halls has been in effect, providing those of legal drinking age the opportunity to do so.

Director of Residence Life Lisa Freeman said that the pilot was first proposed in an attempt to encourage responsible drinking for students of age, in addition to incentivizing more upperclassmen to stay on campus.

“The idea behind the policy is two-fold,” Freeman said. “Some of the feedback that we’ve gotten is that one of the deterrents for students that are of age to drink from staying on campus was that we had an alcohol policy in our residence halls. So this was an opportunity to address that deterrent and concern, and give students that wanted to stay on campus that are older the opportunity to do so. The other idea, is that we want to normalize alcohol in a way.”

As the pilot program currently stands, any residential unit on campus where all residents are 21-years-old is eligible to participate, Freeman said. This includes all potential living situations ranging from singles to larger suites. While there are eligible rooms all over campus, the majority of them are concentrated in Nebraska and Cassell Hall, which primarily house juniors and seniors.

If and when a room qualifies for eligibility, Freeman sends those residents an email, alerting them of their ability to participate in the program and of its additional guidelines such as staying in their rooms while consuming alcohol, not consuming alcohol in the presence of anyone younger than 21, appropriate amounts of alcohol in possession and paraphernalia.

“I outline the details of the policy and then I specifically talk about the expectations, which just helps students to understand the policy, and then that it’s a pilot and what will be expected of them if they have an eligible room,” Freeman said. “I send that email out every month for any new rooms that become eligible.”

Sophomore Reagan Williams completed residential training over the summer prior to the start of the 2016-2017 school year, at which administrators introduced the new policy. Since then, given the fact that the pilot is still new and can be stopped at any point, Williams said she has stressed this point to her residents over the age of 21.

“At the beginning of the year [I held] back my residents who are over 21 after our second floor meeting,” Williams said. “I told them that this is a privilege that you have, and that this is a pilot program so at any moment they can be like ‘No, this isn’t a thing anymore. None of you are allowed to have alcohol.’ So I told them don’t ruin it for yourselves and everyone else.”

The Residence Hall Association is meant to help facilitate the transition to the new “damp” campus policy by explaining the alcohol regulation changes to residents affected by them, The Eagle previously reported. However, RHA president Sam Rogers said his organization has yet to be involved in this process.

“Part of the problem for us this year is that we have all new staff advisers and there wasn’t a lot of transition information written down for us because there’s just been so much staff turnover in Housing and Dining this year,” Rogers said. “As far as helping with the transition, there hasn’t been any information either coming from us or coming into us from Housing and Dining, so I’m not really sure where that stands.”

Because the pilot has only been implemented since the beginning of the semester, Freeman said they don’t have a significant amount of data on it yet. The pilot will run for two years, granted that it is not terminated within that time frame, at which point it will be evaluated by administrators before becoming a formalized policy. As time progresses, they plan to reevaluate and include the RHA in further improving the pilot as needed.

“Obviously we’re piloting, so we’ll come together at the end of the year to see how things are going, what data we’re able to collect and then make some decisions as to if we want to continue it,” Freeman said. “The plan will pilot for two years, so we need to be able to compare one year against another, but we will engage RHA so that if we feel that we learn something this year, what are some things that we might do to either address things, or to help bring education for our residential students.”

RAs follow a series of steps in documenting alcohol violations when incidents are reported to residential staff, Williams said. This includes gathering all of the alcohol present in the room at the time, placing it in the middle of the room, asking the offenders a series of questions, disposing of the alcohol and completing an incident report to document the offense.

“You ask them [offenders] if they knew they were in the presence of alcohol, if they consumed any of the alcohol, and if they provided any of the alcohol,” Williams said. “You record everyone’s answers to those three questions, which is funny because it takes a while, so it’s like you’ve really crashed the party at that point.”

While this procedure used to apply universally to all alcohol incidents in the residence halls, Williams said the new policy makes it slightly more complicated. She now needs to know in advance which rooms in the hall are allowed to possess alcohol.

Williams also said the temporary policy shift has taken a while for some RAs to get used to, especially those who worked in the position prior to the pilot program going into effect.

“It’s still so instinctual for RAs, especially RAs who have been RAs before, they see [alcohol] and they’re like ‘Oh, we have to write that up,’” Williams said.

Rogers said that while he supports the temporary policy change, he would expect this pilot transition to be confusing for many students. This policy is an opportunity for RHA to educate students, he said.

“There can be problems with underage drinking, but not anymore than there already are right now on campus,” Rogers said. “I think it might be confusing to some students what the policy actually is, so I think it would be good if we were more involved as an organization with education about that, so that’s definitely something that I will reach out to Housing and Dining about.”

Junior Emily Simonsen, a resident of Nebraska Hall, said while she thought her RA did a good job explaining the pilot program to others on her floor, she believes this education might vary depending on who is presenting it.

“For me, my RA explained it when we first arrived on campus, basically at our first floor meeting, but I haven’t really heard much about it since then,” Simonsen said. “But my boyfriend lives in Cassell and I know his RA definitely gave them a much more in-depth meeting about it just because there are some juniors who live there and will be 21. So it probably varies from RA to RA and the different staff that work there from hall to hall.”

In keeping with the goal of maintaining a strong campus community by encouraging older students to stay on campus, Williams said she thinks the pilot program would be effective as a formalized policy without increasing problems with underage drinking on campus.

“You know, it’s the same thing as ‘My body is not a container,’” Williams said. “Statistically, if you know that college age students are going to be drinking, it’s better to have them doing it here where RAs and Public Safety can respond should something turn bad, versus drinking off campus.”

Despite her support of the new policy, Simonsen said she doesn’t think the pilot program will factor too much into students’ decisions to remain on campus versus moving off campus.

“I guess it would be cool to have it as a policy,” Simonsen said. “Either way, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to make too much of a difference just because it seems like people will probably just keep [alcohol] if they want to keep [alcohol], regardless of whether or not they’re of age.”

ikaplan@theeagleonline.com


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