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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

From the archives: Blame irresponsibility, not alcohol

Note from the Editors: This article was originally published on May 7, 1998. The Carletonian is 147 years old, with over 3,400 issues published since its inception. To reflect and learn from the newspaper’s substantial history, pieces from the archive that have particular relevance either to current events will be republished. 


I decided to go sit in on a CSL meeting last Tuesday. That’s the Committee on Student Life, a discussion forum with Dean of Students Mark Govoni, Director of Residential Life Marty Redman, some CSA senators and other students-at-large. The topic of the week was the school alcohol/drug policy, specifically as it related to a 1997 survey of Carleton students on their drinking habits. In a nutshell, the results were that drinking and drug use were generally up, as was the number of students who reported “drinking to get drunk.” This led into a fairly productive discussion on what this meant and what the ramifications of this survey might be. But all the while, I couldn’t help thinking that, at face value, this survey really meant nothing. So what if Carleton students like to drink (a lot, and often)? I remember reading as a prospie that Carleton students work hard, but don’t take themselves too seriously. We know how to take our minds off school work, relieve stress and have fun. Whether or not one drinks, one has to admit that activities involving alcohol can help a student do all these things.

So where’s the problem? Well, come live on First Burton like I do, and on any given weekend you’ll see it. Puke in the urinals, vandalism in the lounge and very little peace or quiet. Nobody, even those who won’t even touch a bottle of booze, is free from the effects of “the influence.”

And, in my experience of being a CSA senator and trying to improve student life, people under “the influence” can be a gigantic hindrance. For example, the front of the Burton lawn is disgustingly awash in cigarette butts. The simple solution would be to have a permanent ash basin in front, so I asked Buildings and Grounds why there isn’t one. It turns out that they used to have quite attractive and permanent concrete ones. But unfortunately, drunken students had, for some reason that must have made more sense under “the influence,” picked them up and dropped them…repeatedly. This obviously caused them to shatter to bits. The mediocre solution was those ugly, bounceable rubber ash basins you may have seen around campus, although these seem to be in short supply since they haven’t actually put one in front of Burton yet. 

There are also plenty of other acts of vandalism to list. Witness Watson, which has experienced everything from a television going off the balcony to racially motivated graffiti covering the walls, these incidents no doubt occurring when students were under “the influence.” While there’s often no confirmation that all of these crimes were committed by Carleton students, I find it hard to believe that all crimes were exclusively committed by townies. Especially since the list of examples goes on and on.

The immediate thing that people are quick to blame is the alcohol. With all these disturbance involving alcohol consumption, it’s quite tempting to spend our time worrying about the alcohol policy and how to tighten up the rules in order to keep the peace. But this type of strategy misses the point. Increasing restrictions on alcohol will do nothing except encourage ways to beat the system.

So isn’t it kind of hypocritical to support a lenient alcohol policy and yet bitch about how students under “the influence” often cause so much disturbance? The answer is no, since the fact is that focusing on alcohol misses the big picture. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem, namely, that Carleton students don’t always take their actions seriously enough. For proof, just look at how the stupid things we do are not limited only to times when we’re under “the influence.” In a place that proclaims itself to be a “smart college,” we do so much stupid shit. If you really still need an example, just take the Citra cannon escapade. When the Coca-Cola company brought over free samples of Citra, two cannons (Coolers) were stolen within minutes after they had been left unattended. Sure, it was good for a little chuckle, and possibly even had the potential to be a good prank, provided the issue was made public and the cannons were promptly returned after being victoriously paraded. But rather, the Northfield police were called and the issue became serious, since some students felt that it was within their rights to steal, presumably so they could add to their collection of beer paraphernalia. A classic example of students not taking their actions seriously enough. And to give further example, need I even go into a discussion of the notorious pink “Public Safety Alerts” that we all got in the mail? Hopefully, just mentioning them will suffice.

To further prove that the issue is much larger than alcohol, my thesis can be applied to the consumption of alcohol itself. When my family throws parties at home, drinking is fairly normal. But at home, everyone recognizes that alcohol is a potent drug, and respects its ability to make us feel good as well as do things we would later regret. However, at Carleton, our attitude toward alcohol is lackadaisical and casual. We don’t think it at all out of the ordinary to go into someone’s room and see a display case full of empty bottles. Drinking is such a non-issue here that there is often no consideration of what effects it can have. While we should enjoy alcohol if we choose to drink, we should also have some respect for its power to impede our judgment. Only then can we enjoy alcohol safely. But until students take the action of drinking alcohol seriously, we’re only bound for more alcohol-related disturbances.

And where does that leave us? My goal is not to say that we’re all a bunch of two-bit hypocritical under-achievers, or to pretend that I have the miracle solution to all our worries. It’s just to make us aware that in so many instances, our very own actions can be the sources of our problems. For example, there are so many complaints about Security being oppressive and infringing on our rights as students. I always hear students say that they feel like they’re being patrolled instead of protected. But the simple fact is that Security would leave us alone if we were all responsible enough to control our actions. They would have no reason to watch over Carleton students and chase them around. In the Citra incident, I heard many people say that the thefts were the Coke company’s own fault since they shouldn’t have left the coolers unattended. But this reasoning makes no sense, as these same people maintain that we should be free of scrutiny from authority and trusted to govern ourselves. The point is, it’s so easy to shift the conversation away from us and look at alcohol or other outside factors. But this misses the point; our actions are more important than we often admit, and it is our responsibility and nobody else’s to respect that. It’s like that one famous guy said, “To find the true monster, first look within yourself.”


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