Column: Preference For Points
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 00:03
Most college students, if they have the will, are going to find a way to drink—whether they’re underage or not. This is true at Boston College, as I’m sure it is at countless schools across the country. Moreover, college drinking is inevitably paired with some method of keeping that drinking in check. At BC we recognize this method as the alcohol matrix, an inconsistent system that focuses more on punishment than on rewarding smart behavior.
Recently, the UGBC Senate unveiled a proposal to update our current alcohol policy, which involves a switch from the existing matrix to a graduated point system. The ultimate goal is to have a system in place that’s both clear and fair. Students should know what to expect from poor conduct, but they should also have the ability to redeem themselves. In a college environment, coming into contact with alcohol is nearly unavoidable, and for this reason, I believe one bad decision should not be punished. We’re at college to learn, and a great deal of our education takes place outside the classroom. An updated alcohol matrix should reflect this reality, and the Senate committee’s proposed changes are a move in the right direction.
As it reads now, the matrix almost encourages students to drink liquor, simply because it’s easier to hide and drink quickly without getting caught. If the matrix differentiated between beer and liquor offenses, more students would likely opt to drink beer, a relatively safer alcohol to consume in reasonable quantities. Additionally, a student’s first violation should not be punished with disciplinary probation, but rather, it should provide an opportunity for education without penalty. I’m not saying that the University should condone underage drinking—I realize why it cannot—but if students felt they even had marginal room for error, I think the habit to binge drink in the secrecy of one’s room would be reversed.
If safer drinking practices are promoted freshman year, these habits will continue through graduation. I’m a huge proponent of positive feedback and rewarding smart decisions, and this is an area where BC’s current alcohol matrix is lacking. One of the committee’s proposals says that students should have an opportunity to “wipe clean” their records, and I wholeheartedly agree. Many students plan to attend graduate, law, and medical school after graduation, and a minor infraction during one’s freshman or sophomore year when they may not have known better should not have to negatively affect the application process. I support the committee’s effort to work with administrators to implement a system for students to appeal to get their records cleared.
In addition to fostering safer drinking on campus, the proposed changes to the alcohol matrix have the potential to improve resident-RA relationships. By its nature, the existing matrix often drives a wedge between RAs and their residents because students view them as the enemy. In the same vein, students have a tendency to demonize the administration when considering the matrix’s shortcomings. Believe it or not, the administration actually accepts and acknowledges that students drink. They are not naive to the norms of college social life. Nonetheless, it’s their responsibility to create drinking policies that effectively protect our health and well-being. From the student perspective, it’s easy to write off the administration as the bad guy, but in reality, their job is much harder than it appears.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to various administrators about underage and binge drinking on campus, and I can tell you any faults with the current system are not due to their lack of trying. Administrators have to find the perfect balance between cracking down and being too lenient, and the ideal formula differs from year to year. In my opinion, the matrix absolutely needs to change, but we need to change, too. We need to recognize that RAs and administrators are not out to get us—they’re simply trying to provide a safer environment.