Dean’s Office holds alcohol dinner discussions

By the end of this week, students in all 12 residential colleges will have participated in discussions on administrative alcohol policies with fellows from the Yale College Dean’s Office.

In an effort to foster communication between students and administrators regarding Yale’s policies on alcohol, the YCDO has organized a series of “Alcohol Conversation Dinners or Desserts” for students in each residential college. Eleven discussions, one in each college plus a joint dinner for the Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges, are being held from Nov. 11 to 29. The events aim to allow students to share their experiences with and concerns about Yale’s alcohol culture while also offering suggestions for different approaches to curbing high-risk drinking, said YCDO fellow Hannah Peck DIV ’11.

“The Dean’s Office definitely wants to have an ongoing conversation with students,” Peck said. “These dinners are an experiment to see if this is a good way to have discussion.”

University administrators are searching for new ways to communicate with students, she said, adding that the YCDO plans to hold an increased number of similar events if the new dinner format proves to be productive. Previous means of communication, such as campuswide emails outlining Yale’s new alcohol policies, have not been as effective as administrators had hoped, she said.

The dinner discussions follow a 10-minute information session about dangerous drinking in the United States and the alcohol policies of other universities, Peck said. The discussion facilitators do not explicitly address Yale’s alcohol policies in their introduction because the purpose of these dinners are not to inform students of the University’s alcohol policies, she added.

Garrett Fiddler ’11, another YCDO fellow, said members of the Dean’s Office have noticed that students often misunderstand Yale’s changing approach to alcohol — particularly, students worry about a “larger perceived crackdown” than exists in reality. Administrators are also concerned that students who perceive an increase in alcohol-related disciplinary action may be deterred from seeking help for incidents related to high-risk drinking, he said. At some dinners, Fiddler added, part of the discussion focused on clarifying Yale’s alcohol policies.

After listening to student input at the dinners that have already occurred, Fiddler said important areas for the University to tackle include helping students understand disciplinary policies and clarifying “what [students] will or won’t actually get in trouble for.” He added that another key concern will be the consistent enforcement of University policies among Yale Security and Yale Police.

During the first week of dinners, attendance was lower than anticipated — roughly five to 10 students attended each event, Peck said. Because of the low turnout, the dinners have not been successful as a means of mass communication, Fiddler added, but he said the dinners have been highly successful at engaging individual students.

Matthew Breuer ’14, who attended the dinner in Branford College, said he felt the dinner was the “first real time” administrators have engaged the student body about Yale’s approach to alcohol.

“This series of conversations indicates a greater willingness on the University’s part to involve students than [there was] previously,” Breuer said.

Michael Wolner ’14, who will be president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon next semester, attended the Tuesday night dinner for Morse and Stiles and said he thought the conversations were productive because the fellows were willing to be honest about administrators’ approach to Yale’s alcohol culture.

“At times, these [discussions] feel like a sort of lip service before the University just does what it wants to, but I don’t think that’s the case at all with this one,” he said.

The remaining dinners will be held in Berkeley and Trumbull on Wednesday and Davenport, Pierson and Calhoun on Thursday.

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