Alcohol: A college student’s friend or enemy?

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Jonathan Lopes
Campus News

The most hotly contested topic I’ve come across as a college student and now as an employee has been the role alcohol plays on a college campus. Is alcohol that “liquid courage” that allows students to ease the transition into college or an overvalued concept that results in more harm than good? This piece is meant to shed light on the topic and not take a formal stance, but I will include experiences and insight, in order to paint a full picture.
I served as a Resident Assistant (RA) at Ramapo College and observed the negative effects of the presence of alcohol. On occasion, students would embarrass themselves with public intoxication, making a scene, vomiting, and the rare occurrence of releasing their bowels in places other than a restroom. Scary situations have also occurred with students consuming too much alcohol and then have to be transferred to a local hospital.
There are students who do not fully realize the potential cost of their actions. For instance, a standard violation can consist of a judicial hearing, fine, sanction, and/or community service. Depending on the case, students can receive as a little as a simple warning or as much as a suspension or possible expulsion. If an alcohol violation took place in everyday life, instead of those school based consequences, these students could be arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and/or underage drinking.
On the flip side, students have shared various stories about how the campus culture has enhanced their experience, made them more mature, and welcoming to different things. The ability to unwind and consume alcohol served as that catalyst. I don’t personally drink or smoke, but can and do understand the stance others have concerning these prevalent college issues.
I’ve interacted with mature students willing to follow policies regarding alcohol use as well as naive, combative students who consider the alcohol policies to be completely unfair. Typically, colleges allow for alcohol to be consumed, only in designated areas with students of age. However, issues quickly and often arise when dealing with parties open to all students and those who ruin it for everyone else.
It is highly important for students to feel comfortable enough to express themselves via open forums and question and answer sessions. Regardless if a higher education institution is pro or con when dealing with issues of alcohol consumption, students should not fear speaking up and expressing their thoughts. Otherwise, tension begins to increase and a disconnect between administration and the student body develops. I’ve witnessed both, students unsure if it is their place, due to intimidation, and those who will speak their mind at all cost.
It is equally important for students to present their stance in a mature, educated fashion, not attributing to policies simply as “freedom restrictions” and considering their education to be a waste of “tax dollars.” It is difficult for college administrators and campus security to take students seriously, if they are ignorant and unwilling to understand the current policies and abide by them. For instance, Ramapo College recently held a campus open forum on the topic of alcohol. Members of the Student Government Association moderated the event in which students could ask questions and give comments to administrators within the offices of public safety, residence life, student affairs, and student life. Most of the audience members were disgruntled students making empty statements and accusing the administrators of being “power hungry.” One student in particular told an administrator, “I am very scared of the power you have over my freedom.”
College administrators and campus security possess the primary duty to supply students with the environment to feel safe, in order to learn. Students primarily enter higher education to learn and eventually achieve a degree, not to drink. Alcohol, at times, has proven to be an obstacle in achieving that goal. These policy makers and enforcers run the risk of legal recourse and a tarnished reputation, if policies are too casual and not in the best, long-term interest of the students.
Furthermore, college administrators and campus security must make the social campus culture clear and be willing to treat students as adults and engage in a dialogue. There should not be a basic policy format that punishes all students, no matter the charge. Hearings and potential sanctions should be administrated on a case by case basis, allowing students to explain their case.
As a college student and employee, I would encourage students to consider two things. First, if you are going to party, know in advance who you are doing it with and where you are doing it. Second, if you want to make a change, “research” (Google) policies and procedures neighboring colleges take part in and present it as alternatives. Use resources including the college’s Student Government Association in presenting a case for reform. College administrators will be much more receptive to actual ideas and not just anecdotes. With that said, take care, be safe and enjoy the few years we get for this experience!

Jonathan Lopes attended Raritan Valley Community College from 2009-2011. He earned an A.A. degree in Education K-12 and transferred to Ramapo College, currently completing his final undergraduate course while working at RVCC as a part-time admissions recruiter and service learning intern.

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