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ISSUE 120 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/6/2006

Alcohol policy is not to blame

By Lauren Ciechanowski
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 6, 2006

This weekend I was hanging out with my girlfriend on Ole Avenue when a severely inebriated female “ran” past the house at approximately 9 p.m. After she lost her shoe in midstride and fell at approximately 9:01 p.m., I began thinking about the efficacy of St. Olaf's dry campus policy. Does the policy, as so many students claim, actually encourage binge drinking?

Before I begin shooting from the hip, I will refer readers to data available through our office of Institutional Research and Planning. The National College Health Assessment survey, last administered at St. Olaf in 2004, shows that 60 percent of students reported drinking alcohol in the past month, and only 25 percent of students paced drinks to one or fewer an hour.

The portion of the survey regarding the last time a typical Ole “partied” asked students to report how many drinks they consumed the last time they drank on a scale of one to twelve, and then to estimate how many drinks the “typical Ole” drank the last time he or she partied.

Male self-reported consumption was half the estimated for 1-5 drinks, but the data for 6-12 drinks was actually the same for self-reported and estimated. Female students’ self-reported data was half the estimated for both the 1-5 drinks and 6-12 drinks categories.

For the most part, then, students perceive that the typical Oles consume more alcohol than they actually do when they party. Could this be a large part of the reason for this myth?

The party line students recite when criticizing the dry campus policy is that drinking behind closed doors encourages students to consume more drinks in less time. The most obvious fault in this logic is that drunk people are loud. Have you noticed that too? And if I have learned anything at St. Olaf, it is that loud noises attract RAs.

Students who drink socially behind closed doors – having a few drinks while watching a movie, for instance – tend to be significantly quieter than Oles who binge drink. Using this calculus, it would appear that the dry campus policy would actually encourage students to be quieter when drinking.

With the possible exception of Case Day, few Oles label the activity “binge drinking,” but instead use the term “partying.” Parties, of course, include loud music and generally raucous behavior, on account of their party-like atmosphere. Parties attract attention – door closed or not, if you can hear it down the hall or from the street, the party is not a discreet way to binge drink. So what might cause Oles to binge drink, if not the dry campus policy?

If 21-year-olds are considered responsible enough to drink – and if a number of Oles of all ages consider themselves responsible enough to drink – then what about the administration’s position on alcohol would render students unable to regulate their own ability to stop when they have had enough? Despite the Caf’s all-you-can-eat policy, we are not a morbidly obese campus; when we are full, we stop.

Clearly, the point of partying is to avoid responsibility, although I agree that everyone deserves to have a good time on the weekends. It is hard to feel like a respectable 21-year-old when you have to smuggle alcohol into your home away from home, but that feeling is no excuse for passing the blame for your behavior.

I really do not care one way or the other if Oles binge drink, although I do tend to think that behavior like that of the female mentioned in the first paragraph is somewhat unbecoming of an Ole. What frustrates me is the lack of accountability on the part of those who are drinking. If we continue to serve ourselves too much alcohol and subsequently place blame on the administration, where does that get us? Until Dean Kneser is pouring my drinks, it's nobody's fault but mine.

Contributing Writer Lauren Ciechanowski is a senior from Oak Park, Ill. She majors in political science and in sociology/anthropology.

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