Mutual trust should inform alcohol policy

As shopping period draws to a close, Camp Yale is just a memory. But as the academic year’s most leisurely stretch recedes into the past, we are forced to admit that this year, it wasn’t quite the same. The sense of excitement we raved about in this space two weeks ago was still there, amid the whirlwind of introductions and reintroductions, but it was muted. And it is not difficult to understand why, in light of the law that will take effect just over two weeks from now.

This year, freshmen and returning students alike were met with residence-specific approaches to enforcement of the new Connecticut statute that, come Oct. 1, will criminalize the possession of alcohol by minors on private property as well as forbidding adults to knowingly allow such possession on their property. Some college masters and deans offered reasonable compromises that seem to have been effective thus far. Others did not.

To her credit, Silliman College Master Judith Krauss — who heads the Council of Masters — has repeatedly emphasized that safety, not punishment, remains the focus of the University’s alcohol policy. This is particularly heartening given unrealistic statements we heard in the spring, when a yearlong review of that policy yielded suggestions that would have been impossible to enforce, such as a ban on odorless grain alcohol and a mandate that bar service be cut off an hour before a party’s scheduled end. And it is refreshingly candid in the wake of last fall’s ludicrous announcement that the force of nature known as the Yale-Harvard tailgate was to be shut down at halftime. Unsurprisingly, that rule was flexible.

Fortunately, Krauss is not the only administrator who seems to appreciate the value of flexibility or of safety. Other masters and deans strengthened the registration of social events in their colleges by requiring a host to provide a cell phone number in case of a noise complaint. Only if that consideration was ignored did administrators take the tack that others embraced from the start: shutting events down.

To some, a call to register every party may seem like asking for a shirt with a bull’s-eye on the back. Come October, administrators who can hear dorm speakers in their own bedrooms may feel as though they are lying underneath a neon sign reading, “Police wanted.” But the residential college experience is, we are told, based on mutual respect and trust, and we can think of few better ways to demonstrate that trust than a compact that allows us to enjoy each other’s company without unnecessarily compromising privacy. It is, to be sure, a much better answer than trying to enjoy a party that you may have to flee at any moment, or stomping across the lawn to force that flight in the middle of the night.

Certainly, the change in the air this year was not simply a function of crackdowns in the colleges. Some of the excitement of the season was lost to the fears of students, not administrators. But we all need to work to ensure that next time we have a long stretch of free time, the memories we’re making aren’t tainted by the fear that at any moment the party can be shut down.

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