University proposal suggests allowing alcohol in residence halls
A pilot proposal to allow alcohol in select on-campus residence halls with a potential start date of fall 2016 is currently being perfected by AU administrators who govern University housing.
The program, which was prompted by concern over dangerous off-campus drinking situations and the University’s desire to house more upperclassmen on campus, began within Housing and Dining Programs with input from the Office of Campus Life.
“You could live across the street as a 21-year-old person and be able to drink as a legal right, and not that that was the most important reason why students moved off campus, but [it has been] a component,” Assistant Vice President for Housing and Dining Programs Chris Moody said.
Under the current outline, the program would apply to students living in McDowell, Cassell, Roper and Nebraska Halls, as well as students on designated floors in Leonard Hall and Hughes Hall. Residents in those halls will have the opportunity to apply for a permit to possess alcohol in units where at least half the residents are 21 years or older, according to Moody, who is responsible for the planning, development and implementation of the pilot.
Residents of Anderson, Letts, Clark and Centennial Halls will not be able to apply for permits, as those halls will primarily house freshmen and underclassmen, Moody said. There will also be substance-free floors or wings available in residence halls where alcohol is not permitted.
The proposal is intended to normalize student alcohol use and perceptions of alcohol, while reducing the dangerous drinking that occurs in the community or in private homes, according to Moody.
“As a by-product of the hall policy we are pushing all of the drinking behaviors into the community, into private homes where there are fewer resources and it’s more dangerous if someone gets into a bad situation,” Moody said.
Students seeking to obtain an alcohol permit must unanimously agree with the other residents in their room to having alcohol in the room and must not have had multiple drug or alcohol conduct code violations. When eligible residents receive permits, they will likely be required to go through trainings such as StepUp!, a bystander prevention program, or PEERS sexual assault prevention initiatives, though Moody said these details have not yet been solidified.
The Resident Hall Association will be tasked with communicating to residents about the alcohol policy change and developing programming to assist residents in the transition to the new policies, according to Alex Kokinchak, RHA’s vice president for advocacy and community coordination.
“The biggest goal is educating our residents [on] what the options are for next year, what will be changing, what won’t be changing, helping them make informed decisions and how it might affect their lives on campus,” Kokinchak said. “It is our job that everyone on campus knows what is happening since it is so relevant to residential life.”
Under the pilot program, underage students found with alcohol in freshman residence halls, for example, would still be penalized. Students with an alcohol permit would not be subject to conduct code drinking violations but may have their permits revoked if they misuse the privileges of the permit, such as by giving alcohol to underage students.
“In the pilot year, [the conduct code] won’t [officially] change. The only change that will occur in the pilot year is the residence hall license agreement,” Moody said. “If it goes from pilot to policy, the student conduct code would change and revoked alcohol permit privileges would be added.”
Beer, wine and liquor will be permitted in residences with permits, though beer kegs and alcohol paraphernalia such as funnels would not be allowed.
“As for now, we are not going to put numbers on the amount of the alcohol a resident can have, but it’s about responsible choices,” Moody said. “There is a big difference between having wine with dinner with your roommates and having packs of beer and tons of underage people in your room having a party.”
Conduct code violations would focus on loud noise or units over-crowded with residents at a party, rather than mere alcohol possession, according to Moody.
Though alcohol would not be permitted in freshman or sophomore residence halls, Resident Assistants and Program Associates of legal age in those halls would be able to apply for an alcohol permit.
“Just because they are assigned to work in freshman dorms, we don’t want to penalize them or not have this privilege because of the job they have decided to take on a role-modeling job to begin with,” Moody said.
Evolution of Policy change
Administrators began discussing a possible alcohol policy change during the spring 2015 semester. Housing and Dining staff also researched and compared on-campus alcohol policies to 15 mostly private schools and other institutions in the Patriot League division and across the mid-Atlantic region, according to Moody.
“We learned that of all the schools, only two schools did not allow alcohol, American and Howard University, in resident halls,” he said. “It shows that other campuses have an open mind to a policy that becoming 21 and the ability to drink alcohol as a legal adult is part of that normalized process.”
HDP and RHA held their first public town hall discussion and feedback review of the pilot policy program on Monday. The second discussion, also public, is set to happen tonight in MGC 2 at 6 p.m.
Administrators plan to formally complete the pilot proposal following feedback from students and administrators in tonight’s final town hall discussion.
From there, the proposal will be sent to President Kerwin and his cabinet for approval. The final announcement about whether the pilot program will actually be implemented will come before the end of this semester, according to Moody.
On Monday’s discussion about the pilot policies, RHA student members were pleased with the changes.
“We want to include as much feedback and answer concerns residents may have about the policy changes,” Kokinchak said. “But ultimately this is moving AU in the right direction. It's focused on education and normalizing mature responsible drinking behavior and with our goals of educating our students getting them ready to send them out to the real world, this policy is beneficial.”
Correction: a previous version of this article listed Kokinchak's title incorrectly. She is the RHA vice president for advocacy and community coordination, not the vice president for outreach and advocacy, as initially stated.