LIVER LET DIE

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Things an Eli needs to go out in January: gloves, scarf, fuzzy hat, parka.

Optional: beer jacket.

To survive New Haven’s harshest winters, some Yalies swear by this fleece alternative. Referring to the observation that consuming an alcoholic drink often causes one to feel warmer (the blood vessels dilate and the warm blood consequently flows closer to the skin), some students prefer to down a can of Natural “Natty” Light before braving the arctic chill.

At least 27 students built up a coat fifteen drinks thick this past Saturday, according to a poll sent out by the News earlier this week. Though not all Elis drink (one-third of Yale undergrads surveyed reported not consuming a single alcoholic beverage last Saturday, and one in four said they abstain from drinking all year), the University and the city have striven to formulate tolerant and pragmatic ways to control those who do. Despite decades of shifting policies designed to balance protective ideals with the realities of college life, a majority of students continue to drink. And of those who drink, at least half binge drink.

But with temperatures dipping this low, students remain unconvinced that their alcoholic outerwear needs to go.

DRUNK HISTORY

Alcohol and Yale have been peas in a pod since 1701. Just 40 years following the University’s birth, butteries were established to keep students from going into town to get sloshed. In 1748, the college allotted buttery managers 12 barrels of beer to serve.

By the late 1970s, each residential college had a social committee responsible for planning events, a majority of which, according to the News, amounted to little more than “booze and bands.” The school-wide social budget was over $110,000 for 1980; three-fourths of that money was spent on liquor and liquor-related events.

Dining hall happy hours raged until 1 a.m. Those who chose apple juice over appletinis were described by their more rambunctious classmates as “lepers,” and a student reporter summed up the all-you-can-drink evenings as “a very economical way to relax.”

“Reggae Night” in Ezra Stiles featured piña coladas and daiquiris. “Rock ‘n’ Roll” night in Davenport was advertised as rife with “beer, vodka [and] munchies.”

But then the game changed: the legal drinking age rose from 18 to 19, then to 20 and finally to 21 in 1985.

Slurping down a PBR or a vodka cran, once an open affair, now occurs behind closed doors for those underage students not blessed with fake IDs. Thirty years later, events have new names and a new alcohol policy: Jonathan Edwards’ Spider Ball, Calhoun’s Trolley Night, Morse’s Prohibition — all dry.

But none of these events were on last Saturday’s agenda. There was a sold-out Yale men’s hockey game at 7 p.m., two undergraduate plays, and a film screening. Parties in various college suites followed — some for birthdays, some for theater casts, some just for the sake of getting together. Calhoun’s party suite, Bookworld, called theirs “I Just Had Sex.” There was a naked party, and as always, there was Toad’s Place.

As the night wore on, the drinks flowed freely.

Forty-four percent of the nearly 2,000 respondents to the poll reported that they didn’t drink last Saturday night. But among those who did drink, over 60 percent reported finishing four or more drinks. Yet the policies enforced by Yale administration are primarily geared toward those who seek help and don’t always reach those who need it.

A BLURRED LINE

Each year, the Yale College Dean’s Office and Council of Masters issue the Yale College Regulations on Alcoholic Beverages. Accessible online, the 13-part set of guidelines begins with a section on the responsibilities of the students. “Yale College recognizes its students to be responsible adults,” the clause begins, “and believes that they should behave in a manner that does not endanger themselves or others and that is in compliance with state and local laws regarding the consumption, sale, and delivery of alcoholic beverages.”

While students are “held fully responsible for their own behavior,” Masters and Deans of the 12 residential colleges make conscious efforts to ensure the safety of their students. The University’s approach to alcohol consumption thus focuses mostly around health risks, not legal action.

“I don’t pretend to think of myself as the alcohol police,” Silliman Master Judith Krauss said. “I don’t think it is the correct role for masters and deans, and I think if we go too far in that direction we end up having no impact or negative impact.” But she is still no fan of ragers: Silliman’s party suite was eliminated during the college’s renovation in 2007, with the belief that the college culture would be better off without it.

She and Dean Hugh Flick emphasize having personal relationships with and educating their students. A security personnel assigned to every two colleges does monitor registered parties, though in Silliman he simply reports back to the Master and Dean.

Krauss says she does not worry about drinking problems among her students because of the degree to which she knows they care about one another. If someone had a drinking problem, she trusts that his or her friends would let her know if she were not already aware.

Administrators must walk a fine line between emphasizing student health and seeming too laissez-faire about underage drinking, Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld ’71 MED ’76 said.

“If I do find out there’s underage drinking going on someplace, I can’t permit it,” he explained. “That said, I don’t need to set up video surveillance cameras to try to ferret out this type of behavior.”

An addictions expert, Schottenfeld sits on the University’s committee on alcohol and other drugs, the primary group through which alcohol and substance abuse policy is regulated. They focus on educating students so that, if they do choose to drink, they will be prepared to make appropriate decisions.

Schottenfeld and the other members of the committee, including the newly-hired Student Affairs Fellow Ben Flores ’10, partner with student groups to create alternative, alcohol-free events students will actually want to attend, like concerts. Such events are held in public places where drinking is not allowed, and are purposefully timed to limit the amount that attendants can engage in the potentially risky act of “pre-gaming.”

Michael Chao ’12, Yale College Council Events Director, said that although most YCC events — from the Fall Show to the Mr. Yale Pageant — do not directly involve alcohol, many students still drink beforehand. “We know they’re going to be drinking. Administrators know.” he said. “It’s just a matter of making the experience as safe as possible.”

Regardless of whether or not the student is 21, there is little threat of punishment. The only repercussions are that the student is requested to schedule a meeting with Dr. Marie Baker, Yale’s substance abuse counselor. But Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin stopped short of deeming these meetings mandatory. Instead, Genecin described them as “extremely important.”

The University rules state that students can face consequences for alcohol violations, though they don’t stipulate what punishments can be handed out. In the 2009-’10 school year, the Executive Committee saw 22 cases involving alcohol, and although 18 of them were reprimanded, none were formally punished.

BLACKING OUT, DROPPING OUT

Yet while so many Elis were out (or in) drinking, at least one student was reading and doing laundry at home. Supported by Alcoholics Anonymous, she hasn’t had a sip of alcohol for nine months.

She lives at home, about a 25-minute drive from campus. As a senior last April, she withdrew from Yale in order to undergo outpatient treatment for alcohol and drug addictions.

This student was no outsider. She joined a sorority in the fall of her freshman year, a Yale social scene where she says drinking prevails.

“I was totally a fucking mess,” she said. “Getting blackout, at least with the people I was hanging out with, was not uncommon.”

The student recalled drinking during chapter meetings before heading to Wednesday night Toad’s. After one such night, she left with a guy, and woke up the next morning in his bed naked, with no idea what had happened. So she walked to Walgreens and bought Plan B. “I think I kind of wrote it off,” she recalled. Her roommates simply reacted by calling him an “asshole.”

Though she phased out of sorority life, she said that she had reached a point where she felt she needed to drink in order to be socially accepted. During her junior and senior years, she joined societies where she said she met people from all different parts of campus.

One fellow society member introduced her to cocaine.

“Cocaine and I got along really well,” she said. “I was addicted, but I didn’t think people at Yale had drug problems … There’s kind of a sense of immunity or indestructiveness to a college career.”

On the surface, her own college career was going well. But inwardly, she was miserable. She slept through classes and let her relationships slide. On her 21st birthday, she woke up in Yale-New Haven Hospital with no recollection of how she had ended up there. At 9 a.m., after having her stomach pumped, she still blew a 0.19 on a breathlyzer and was not allowed to return to her dorm.

Before meeting with Baker, Yale’s substance abuse counselor, she took a few shots. The counselor ultimately suggested she enter an outpatient program in Hartford, attending meetings three days a week but still graduating on time.

At 2 p.m., when she went to get basic information from the treatment center, she blew a 0.26, a blood alcohol concentration generally associated with not being able to move.

She soon left Yale altogether to focus her energy on attending 12-step meetings. Though she still attends meetings for AA and Narcotics Anonymous, she said she has never bumped into another Yale student, which has surprised her.

She describes Yalies as Type-A, motivated and perfectionists. “We are a breeding ground for people with booze problems,” she concluded. “I think there is a subculture of people who probably have a problem and aren’t getting help for it for a bunch of reasons … I wish someone had told me a year ago that I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t the only person who’s ever had a problem at Yale.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Ava Parnes ’11 has chosen not to drink heavily and has stuck with it. She didn’t start drinking until her junior year at Yale, and even then, she said, she typically consumes no more than a glass of wine.

“I wanted to build a college experience around friendships and college activities,” Parnes said, adding that she feels many students at Yale drink just to get drunk.

LAW AND ORDER

Students entering SAE’s weekly “Late Night” are greeted by flyers printed with a reminder: Students MUST be 21 years or older to consume alcohol in the state of Connecticut.

These signs largely fail to prevent anyone underage from drinking, and even if the police shut down a party, charges are rarely pressed.

In New Haven, police focus has instead turned toward the violence associated with the drinking that continues despite the 1985 law. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. unveiled “Operation Nightlife” last September as part of his plan to whip the city’s out-of-control partying scene into submission through ramped-up police presence on busy nights.

For all its benefits, the drinking age has certainly complicated the way universities consider alcohol policy. Half of the student body is of legal drinking age, so to be too stringent on alcohol would be unfair to those over 21; at the same time, not to enforce drinking laws puts the University at odds with the state. Some, like Ward 7 alderman Bitsie Clark, propose handing over responsibility for drinking matters to the University altogether; the city, for its part, has given administrators leeway in how they deal with alcohol issues.

“Operation Nightlife” meant an unprecedented level of enforcement for downtown clubs. Police scoured the party district, eyes peeled for capacity violations and underage drinkers. For each of the crackdown’s first few weekends, the city paid $15,000 in overtime to police officers.

In a city where there are over a dozen new burglaries, thefts and assaults every day and a new murder every couple of weeks, some students question spending such a large sum to keep college students from partying. But police officers involved in planning “Operation Nightlife” take issue with the idea that enforcing drinking laws and stopping violent crimes are mutually exclusive.

“It’s not like we’re taking police officers who are investigating homicide in the city of New Haven and instead putting them on some detail to investigate underage drinking,” argues David Hartman, an officer with the NHPD involved with the planning of “Operation Nightlife.” “We can certainly handle more than one complaint at any given time.”

But last October, more intense questions surrounding DeStefano’s plan arose after the raid of the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate. Police officers maintain they did not enter with intentions to target Yalies; it was pure coincidence that Yale students were present that night, they say, because the cops’ real target was Elevate itself. Nonetheless, students from local universities were one of the original targets of “Operation Nightlife.”

For a decade, university-sponsored shuttles have hauled drunk, likely underage undergrads into downtown New Haven to party. On peak nights, these buses carry as many as 2,500 inebriated young people. Mayor DeStefano took aim at the buses in September, pledging to begin talks with local universities about keeping students who are “fall-down drunk” off the shuttles. It has yet to be seen whether his plan has worked — in December, Quinnipiac University was busing one-third as many students into downtown as it was earlier this year, though a spokesman for the school said that’s a common trend later in the semester, as the weather gets colder and finals loom over student schedules. Still, Hartman believes many of these revelers have abandoned downtown New Haven and are now “testing the waters” in other party destinations, like South Norwalk.

THE HANGOVER

There was once a time when beers flowed freely and openly, when colleges held happy hours open to all. Times have changed, though, and today administration and students alike must deal with the realities of alcohol abuse.

“The climate for enforcing the liquor laws is more intense now than I can remember it,” Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said. “It’s more intense than it’s ever been.”

When the city’s “Operation Nightlife” clashed with the University, though, the backlash was fierce from students who felt the actions were both unjust and unnecessarily harsh. Little discussion of underage drinking took place; rather, focus remained on the issues of alleged police brutality.

The University’s policies, though existent, emphasize students’ health over drinking age laws. The resources to prevent alcoholism are available, but for some students, acknowledging they have a drinking problem is a step that the college culture often prevents.

Though 21 percent of students reported drinking three or more nights a week, only 13 percent of said they believe they drink excessively.

After 300 years, Yale and liquor are still in a relationship, but it’s complicated.

Comments

  • Yalie08

    JE’s Spider Ball is not dry. Has always had an amazing bar selection. This year I’m sure will be like last year.

  • StephanieOMalley

    Students who are finding their “beer jackets” too warm may find the NIH website, “Rethinking Drinking”, of interest. The NIH also sponsors our research program, Project Choice, which is testing new treatment approaches for young adults who engage in frequent heavy drinking.

  • Yale12

    “Alcohol and Yale have been peas in a pod since 1701.”

    Wow.