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The Carletonian

Lawsuit questions drinking culture

<an style="vertical-align: baseline">In her lawsuit filed recently against Carleton, an alumna claims she was raped twice while at Carleton, and as a result of the administration’s mishandling of these incidents, has been subjected to continued emotional trauma and was “denied her full educational opportunities.” Also integral to the case, however, is the issue of drinking culture of Carleton. Aside from administrative bungles regarding the rapes, the lawsuit also accuses Carleton of repeatedly violating its drug and alcohol policies, which enabled an environment of sexual misdeeds.And indeed, according to the 2015 Student Perception Survey that measured students’ opinions around drugs and alcohol, 75.52% of the student body said they agree or strongly agree that alcohol use is a central part of the social life of students at Carleton. 21% of students who took the survey identified as “substance-free.” What is highlighted in the lawsuit is if these numbers negatively impacts students, and, if so, what can be attributed as the cause.“Carleton is aware of and condones well-established functions such as the Freshman/Senior Party, knowingly permitting, promoting, endorsing, and enabling underage drinking and alcohol abuse,” the lawsuit says. “Carleton’s negligent actions and inactions, consistent with a pattern and practice over time, directly and proximately caused and contributed to Student One’s intoxication and his sexual assault and rape of Plaintiff.” Drinking and Sexual AssaultBarbara Berens, who represents the plaintiff in the case, said that the concerns about Carleton’s underage drinking culture rest with the fact that studies have consistently shown that as instances of excessive drinking rise, so do instances of sexual assault. According to Berens, three-quarters of all campus sexual assault cases involve alcohol. And indeed, the lawsuit cites a portion of Carleton’s website that states that “[d]rinking and doing drugs is a significant risk factor for sexual victimization.”Abhimanyu Lele ’16, an RA, disagreed.“I think it would be a mistake to put all, or even most, of the blame for sexual misconduct on our drinking culture,” Lele said. “I am not exonerating our drinking culture. As a campus, I think Carleton consumes too much alcohol, and some of it in unsafe/unhealthy ways. But it’s too easy to blame alcohol for what is really a deeper societal problem of rape culture and internalized misogyny.”Lele said much of the sexually inappropriate behavior he has seen has been from sober people, and that instead of focusing on reforming drinking culture, Carleton should focus on issues of sexism and racism that contribute to a culture of violence. Administrative FailureAdditionally, Berens said, in general, a college administration “bears responsibility for preventing illegal, underage drinking.” The lawsuit expresses frustrations with Carleton for failing to control underage drinking at events like the Superhero Dance and Freshman/Senior Party. Lele, however, said that many events that enable high-risk drinking are not sanctioned by the administration.“That’s not something the administration has direct control over. That is a culture that the students need to change collectively,” said Lele.“The College is in kind of an awkward position, if it’s not a dry campus, but there’s not necessarily a way to, as an institution, prevent everyone from drinking,” said Sophie Glassford ’16, an RA. “[Underage drinking] is so large-scale that I don’t know how an institution would prevent it from happening entirely.” Failure of Peer LeadersFurthermore, the suit mentions RAs and SWAs as “wrongly facilitat[ing] underage drinking.” Two RAs from the Plaintiff’s floor allegedly told her that she could drink illegally as long as she was discreet about it and if she called Security if she needed help. The lawsuit also blames the SWA program that teaches students how to pour a single shot for propagating underage drinking culture.Glassford acknowledged that, unlike at other colleges, enforcing campus rules is not the main duty of an RA, but was still surprised to hear that two RAs would condone underage drinking. Glassford also said, though, that RAs are caught in an awkward position between prohibiting underage drinking and giving underage students resources to stay safe if they do drink.“It’s implying that [underage drinking] will happen, and it’s not going to get you in trouble if it doesn’t happen, even though we are supposed to say that you cannot be drinking if you’re under 21,” Glassford said.“The philosophy behind what RAs tell first-years is very straightforward; when somebody needs help, we want them to be able to ask for it, regardless of how old they are. And, in general, I believe this is very much the right thing to do,” Lele said. “I see myself as doing the best I can to create a safe environment; what is truly unsafe is a person who has had too much to drink, and nowhere to turn.” Changes in PolicyWith regards to changes to Carleton’s current policies around alcohol, the lawsuit demands: “Injunctive relief requiring Carleton to institute effective policies and procedures to stop underage alcohol consumption on Campus and at Carleton events.” Additionally, the suit stresses better training for “employees, agents, and delegates regarding the legal requirements, best practices, college policies and proper procedures to follow regarding alcohol consumption.”Berens said that personally, although she thinks it is a “good idea to control things like underage drinking on campus so that adverse consequences don’t arise … Draconian steps,” such as outlawing alcohol entirely, could make the situation “worse rather than better.”Glassford echoed this concern, saying that instituting a dry campus like St. Olaf could have harmful effects, like making it so that a dangerously drunk person is afraid to ask for help. Glassford said that Carleton needs to institute more programming aside from just that in New Student Week. Glassford also cited the information gained from the 2016 Carleton Student Perception Survey about drugs and alcohol spearheaded by Patrick Gordon, Project Coordinator for Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention, as a way to change Carleton’s perception of alcohol.“I wonder if that … once [Gordon] has the data that they’ve gathered and has analyzed it and can put out some more educational things, if that will change the culture at all,” Glassford said. Lele agreed with the need to reach more people through programming, but also said that the rigorous and stressful academic culture Carleton creates could feed into its drinking culture.“I think we need to have a long and hard look at how the academic culture that we create could be fueling substance use on this campus,” Lele said.The offices of Security Services, Residential Life and Media Relations were unable to comment due to ongoing civil litigation, as were Patrick Gordon, Project Coordinator for Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention and the Student Wellness Advocates.

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