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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Toxic Environment

<emember the night my freshman fall when someone vomited all over my favorite jacket. It was at my first college dance, and I was as happy and awkward as a new Carl should be. Things began to go south around midnight, however, when I noticed that the security officers had cordoned off a section of the side of the dance floor since someone, apparently under the influence of alcohol, had vomited there. Thinking of the beloved pleather jacket I set on the side of the dance floor, my heartbeat quickened. It looked like they hadn’t cordoned off the section of the dance floor where I put it, so I assumed at first that my jacket hadn’t been touched.

Amid the pounding of the music, I reached down to pick up my jacket. My hand came away wet. After an instant of confusion, the horrible realization set in.

That was also the moment I realized that Carleton has a problem with substances.

At first, I thought it was an individual problem. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but judge the individual poorly for puking on my jacket, and I was disgusted that the drinking habits that led the puker to puke seemed so common here. It is very easy—though not compassionate or right—to blame a person or a group of people for the irresponsible things they do under the influence without looking deeper to consider underlying causes. Unfortunately, I fell right into that trap.

I’d like to believe that my viewpoint has become more nuanced since then. I no longer see substance abuse at Carleton as an individual failing, but rather as a collective symptom pointing to the variety of other troubles we each struggle with. Weekend nights, I wonder why we do this to ourselves and how else we could resolve the pain or anxiety or boredom or social insecurity that we may be trying to medicate away.

In light of recent events, I feel strongly that it is time for the collective Carleton community to ask ourselves, with honesty and without punitive judgment, whether the relationships we have with substances are truly the relationships we want. We must also ask ourselves whether the campus environment we are creating is the campus environment we want. The recent controversies about drug use and medical amnesty at Carleton have fostered great debates on those topics. They could also usher in broader changes regarding substance misuse if we are humble enough to let them.

“Katie,” you say, “what are you proposing? Crackdowns? Drug busts? A dry campus?” No, no, and no. I’m really not trying to be the fun police or say that all campus drinking should cease. I am just suggesting some changes from our current practices, changes that could help us become more mindful about our habits and our aims as we move forward in our relationships with alcohol and drugs. The changes we need shouldn’t come from the administration: they should come from a change in our perspectives and activities. More specifically, I think we need a new club.

I find it unfortunate that among the many clubs that we have, there is not a single one designed to foster support among those struggling with drug or alcohol issues. I firmly believe that Carleton needs a sub-community of like-minded individuals who strive to control their lives instead of letting substances control them. This could be beneficial for those who struggle with addiction and for those like myself who, week in and week out, are the odd one out without a drink at a party and who live with the nasty label of “nonner.” We have Knightlife, a club that provides substance-free activities, but we also need a group that directly fosters nonjudgmental community discussions about substance use and abuse, a group that tackles the issues head on. How can we expect to avoid difficult drug-related situations on this campus when there is such meager organized peer support for substance-free lifestyles?

To risk sounding cliché, Carleton is a community in a very deep sense. We live, eat, study, and struggle together, and it is only together that we will improve our relationships with drugs and alcohol. It’s time to go beyond our debates about medical amnesty and strike together at the root of our substance use problems, since drug and alcohol abuse can take us away from who we truly are and prevent us from becoming who we could one day become. Here at Carleton, a place that is dedicated to self-discovery and human flourishing, it seems that our current substance-focused environment could frustrate our deepest goals. It’s time to break that cycle and allow ourselves to flourish to our fullest extent.

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