August 17, 2010

Colby policy prohibits hard alcohol

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Colby College students will no longer be getting their buzz from booze when they return to campus in the coming weeks. Starting this semester, hard alcohol will be banned from parties and dorms.

Colby joins Bowdoin and Bates colleges in implementing such a policy, which aims to reduce the incidence of alcohol poisoning on campus.

"We don't have students ending up in the hospital because they've had too many beers to drink," said Dean of Students Jim Terhune. "Our focus is on eliminating the dangerous drinking."

The policy change comes more than two years after nearly 20 students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning following a now-defunct annual tradition called Champagne on the Steps, in which seniors marked the end of classes by drinking on the steps of the college's library.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said the drinking culture at the college seems to have improved since then, and the new policy should help further that progress. Some students, however, think the ban on hard alcohol is overreaching.

"I think it's Colby grossly overstepping their boundaries," said Clare Saunders, who will be a junior at the college in the fall. "If you're 21 or 22 years old, you should be able to drink whatever you want."

Saunders said it feels like the college is trying to baby-sit the students.

"I think the overall consensus is, why?" said Lester Batiste, who will be a sophomore.

Every time a Colby student has been hospitalized for excessive drinking, hard alcohol has been involved, said Terhune. That fact informed the work of the group of students, faculty and administrators recently charged with reviewing the college's alcohol policy, he said.

The group looked to alcohol policies at other colleges for guidance and found that both Bowdoin and Bates had banned hard alcohol from their campuses.

The policy at Bates College, implemented in 2001, prohibits anyone from possessing or consuming hard alcohol on the campus, according to Doug Hubley of the college's Office of Communications and Media Relations.

Bowdoin doesn't allow hard liquor in college residences -- a rule that has been in place for at least 15 years, according to Doug Boxer-Cook, a spokesman for the college.

Colby's newly revised policy prohibits students of any age from personally possessing or using hard alcohol on campus, though it still can be sold to students at the campus pub and allowed at privately catered functions, Terhune said.

There also are new guidelines for disciplining students who violate the college's rules regarding drinking. Punishments increase with repeated offenses and are harsher when hard alcohol is involved.

For example, a student of any age caught providing beer or wine to an underage student can be suspended on the third offense. For providing hard alcohol, a student can be suspended on the first offense and expelled on the second offense.

Batiste, 20, said he's not a big drinker, but knows, for a lot of Colby students, drinking is an integral part of their college experience. That includes taking shots of tequila, he said.

"College is a time when you're supposed be trying new things. How are kids supposed to have new experiences and learn from their mistakes?" he said.

Terhune said the change in policy is part of a larger effort to shift the culture of student life at Colby away from excessive drinking.

Following Champagne on the Steps in 2008, the college's Board of Trustees passed a resolution, ending the tradition and directing the college to address abusive drinking on campus.

The Campus Culture Working Group was formed and, last fall, came forward with a list of recommendations for improving the drinking culture at the college, which included offering more intellectually focused activities during the weekend and creating an alcohol awareness and treatment center, as well as changing the college's policy regarding hard liquor.

If the purpose of the new policy is to discourage binge drinking, Saunders said, it could have the opposite effect. Some students don't like the taste of beer, she said, and if they can't drink hard alcohol at parties, they might be inclined to drink more, faster before going out for the night.

"They might take five shots in a row before they leave," said Saunders, 19, who said it's not likely campus security officers would come looking for hard alcohol in their dorm rooms.

Most students are expected to return to campus on Labor Day weekend, according to Terhune. Classes begin on Sept. 8.

Terhune said the purpose of the policy change isn't to enable the college to play the role of Big Brother, but to keep the students safe.

"We're not going to be looking around corners," he said.

Leslie Bridgers -- 861-9252

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