As we can see from this week’s school-wide email from Dean Mary Miller, students are now in an important position to shape policy and create change in regard to decisions about alcohol at Yale.
As the Yale College Council president last year, I spent many hours every week working with Yale administrators, serving through the transition from former President Richard Levin to current President Peter Salovey. At first the job could be frustrating; I frequently found myself serving in an advisory capacity, without the decision-making power that would make student government truly effective.
But as the shape of University leadership began changing, I felt the relationship we had with administrators begin to transform for the better. Working with recently appointed Vice President of Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 and President-elect Salovey, I found them willing to engage with, talk about and rethink the relationship between students and administrators. While recent student frustration surrounding everything from alcohol policy to mental health services is clear and well documented, we are now in a position to do something about it. While student protests, op-eds and YCC reports have captured administrators’ attention, it is crucial as students that we get involved in implementing our ideas, especially with regards to the University’s stance on alcohol.
This week, students received a series of emails from Dean Mary Miller and Vice President Goff-Crews regarding the tenets of Yale’s approach to alcohol policy. These tenets were formed through talks with students and administrators, and they serve as an outline for the University’s upcoming decisions on alcohol policy, education and programming.
Whether the elimination of large-scale University events, new tailgate policies or mandatory party registrations, I have noticed a drastic increase in campus tensions surrounding alcohol. The University’s new tenets are an important first step in quelling fears at a time when rumors of Yale’s disciplinary actions and crackdowns too often drive student behavior.
I am happy that the University has finally stated that alcohol is a public health concern, not a disciplinary issue. Administrators have acknowledged that the current policies and procedures around alcohol have been far from clear, and that student involvement at every level of decision-making is crucial. They have admitted that the status quo is flawed, and are asking students to get involved in fixing it.
The Alcohol Recommendations Implementation Committee is the body in charge of drafting Yale’s new alcohol policy, determining methods of education and planning programming; it will include six undergraduates (two of which will be decided by application) and two graduate students, all serving an active role. Unlike most of the committees I served on during my time as YCC President, this group has the power to decide Yale policy — determining what Yale’s alcohol rules will look like and what tangible steps will be taken to protect students from high-risk drinking. We are in a stage of action.
The topics the Committee considers are likely to be diverse — they may range from debating an amnesty policy and rethinking FroCo training, to providing beer at campus events, as has been done at Spring Fling. Students who feel strongly about policy, programming or education can engage by applying to be on the Committee or the Undergraduate Student Advisory Board on Alcohol. Students can also reach out to the undergraduates on the Committee, like myself.
Only by having an engaged student body can we begin to create the change we talk about so much in op-eds and conversations with friends.
While I fully understand the apathy and frustration my friends at Yale have developed toward student representatives and Yale administrators, I believe we are entering a more engaging time. Our collective voice has helped convince President Salovey to allow a student on the Deans Search Advisory Committee and to create an Open Data Policy Task Force with student representation, following the controversy over Yale Bluebook Plus. The University has now extended an opportunity with regards to alcohol policy, and it is imperative that we seize it. These are important steps in ensuring a more productive and fair relationship between students and Yale administrators.
For this new relationship to work though, administrators must listen to and not just hear what we have to say. If their measures are just lip service, it will be the responsibility of student leaders to hold the University accountable. From my perspective though, we should worry about that concern if and when it arises.
For now, let’s take full advantage of the opportunity we have this year. We’re at a critical juncture in shaping alcohol policies at Yale, an issue with massive impact on student life. There’s a time to bring problems to light, and there’s a time to start generating solutions. Let’s take advantage of the opportunities we’ve been offered to shape Yale’s future.
John Gonzalez is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .