Re-evaluating UVM’s alcohol policy

My mother always told me, “safety first.” She meant it when I would pedal to the top of the steepest hill inthe neighborhood then take my feet off the pedals and hurtle my little Schwinn back down.But my mom’s maxim applies to just more than my 6 year-old, daredevil acrobatics – it applies every time students crack a beer or take a shot.In short, the University should transform its alcohol policy to be centered on student safety and alcohol education and away from the policy’s current basis in detection and punishment.Each policy listed in the Students Rights and Responsibilities booklet has a section titled “Reason for the policy.” In the Alcohol and Other Drug Policy, no mention of the words “safety,” “education,” or “understanding” exists.I have three suggestions for making it better. First of all, University administrators must re-evaluate the confusing message it sends students regarding alcohol.Instead of maintaining the abstinence-only, don’t-get caught approach, the University must clearly and consistently uphold that the message that it does not condone the use of alcohol, but its policies reflect understanding of drinking habits in college and maintain “safety first.”This “safety first” approach should acknowledge a students’ ability to consume alcohol intelligently and moderately, thereby refocusing efforts from catching and prosecuting all drinking to merely unsafe drinking.Second, University administrators and the Center for Student Ethics and Standards (CSES) must re-evaluate the merit of doling out fines and academic suspensions as a punishment for drinking citations.The institutionalized approach to dealing with students, in my opinion, doesn’t work – students require atailored experience, complete with individualized counseling sessions to address the root of their drinking problems – a slap on the wrist, a fine and the possibility of suspension isn’t enough to deter from a second offense.As a corollary to the second, University administrators must lower the punishment for low-level drinking offenses. My opposition to this statement would argue that some students need to be put in a hearing situation that counseling or other forms of “softer punishment” aren’t real forms of action; and that academic suspension sometimes provides breathing room for students, enabling them to return as successful members of the community.But it really depends on how you look at it. A hearing process at CSES overwhelmingly tends to treat one student the same as the next-there’s no room for the individual analysis.It’s clear this alteration from institutionalized to individualized consequences requires a fundamental shift in how the University deals with deviants – not an easy task – but I believe a necessary one. Finally, the University must take it upon itself to advertise the above changes.The University drinking policy needs a facelift. And when administrators begin to go in with their scalpels andBotox, they should remember “safety first.”Julia Michel is currently an SGA Senator. She also serves as a student representative on the Alcohol and Other Drug Subcommittee of the Presidential Taskforce for Social Change.The preceding article represents only her own thoughts and feelings, not the consensus of either the SGA or the AOD Subcommittee.