Colby College offers beer, wine at dinner

It’s a typical Friday night in a residential college dining hall, and students are scooping generous helpings of mashed potatoes and squash onto their plates. But instead of heading over to the fountain for some blue Powerade, students navigate their trays to a small bar to pick up a glass of Merlot, or perhaps a bottle of Guinness.

This scenario is certainly not one familiar to Yale students. But this spring, Colby College students of legal drinking age are experiencing what most college students only dream about — in a room adjacent to the dining hall, students over 21 can purchase up to two drinks for just $1 and enjoy them with their meals on Friday nights.

Cat Welch, Student Government Association president at Colby — a small liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine — and Vice President Adelin Cai, both seniors, came up with the idea after a summer of living in “co-op” housing, where they were allowed to drink alcohol with their meals. The two women were struck by the difference between the “mature” drinking they experienced over the summer and the drinking scene they encountered the following fall, where quantity usually took precedence over quality.

“Adelin and I regretted that this policy, and this mature drinking, couldn’t be spread across campus,” Welch said.

In an effort to show students a side to drinking that does not involve keg stands or funnels, Welch and Cai approached Colby Dean of Students Janice Kassman in early November. Kassman was immediately receptive to the idea, and Colby’s dining services tested the program within two weeks.

Welch said she hopes the program will prepare students for the transition between collegiate-style drinking and drinking in the professional world.

“There really is this taboo surrounding alcohol in colleges which is in contradiction to the rest of the world, where it seems natural for people like our parents or future employers to enjoy a few drinks responsibly,” Welch said. “We hope that this exposes that a little.”

Varun Avasthi, director of dining services at Colby, said the program is proceeding smoothly, with students consuming drinks responsibly.

“If you were to see and feel the atmosphere in the room, it is not a party atmosphere at all,” Avasthi said.

He said the program, far from bringing the hedonism of a frat house into the dining halls, was actually very “low-key,” which is perfectly in accordance with what Avasthi said he sees as the goal of the program.

“The whole focus is to teach moderation in terms of consumption of alcohol, and help people understand the appropriateness of having one or two drinks with dinner,” Avasthi said.

During the 1970s, when the drinking age was 18 and most Yale undergraduates were of legal age, students were permitted to bring a bottle of wine to dinner, Deputy Provost for Graduate and Undergraduate Programs Lloyd Suttle said. But alcohol is not likely to make a comeback in Yale dining halls, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said.

“On the face of it, it sounds positive, but … there are all kinds of ramifications,” Trachtenberg said. “Putting [alcohol] in a dining hall may not be the right signal, and it doesn’t really address in most ways the problem of binge drinking.”

Trachtenberg also noted that only a quarter of college students are over 21, so the program would not affect many students. But she lauded Colby’s efforts to combat irresponsible drinking, and said University President Richard Levin’s newly-convened alcohol policy review panel may discuss the program.

Students at Yale had mixed reactions to the program implemented at Colby. Amy Berken ’05, said they would enjoy the opportunity to drink high-quality alcohol with their meals.

“It would be a nice thing to have,” Berken said.

But others said they see flaws in such a program. Drew Alt ’05 said serving alcohol to students over 21 would foster “exclusivity” in dining halls and create a “weird social dynamic.”

Ryan Allen ’05, said he believes serving drinks in the dining hall would do very little to curb binge drinking and would perhaps become a form of “pre-gaming.” He added that his own experiences show that the availability of alcohol in dining halls is not always correlated with a more restrained approach to drinking.

“I have friends who have brought Nalgenes of beer into the dining hall to drink with dinner, and they still get hammered afterwards,” Allen said.

Welch said she has heard similar concerns before, but remains optimistic about the impact of Colby’s new program.

“I’d like to believe that students would drink Natty Light less often if the Maine microbrews they experience with this program were more affordable to them,” she said.

If Yale were like Colby College, alcohol would share the table with salads and sandwiches in dining halls. The policy was put in place this spring.
Jie Zhou
If Yale were like Colby College, alcohol would share the table with salads and sandwiches in dining halls. The policy was put in place this spring.

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