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Debate Over Alcohol Policy Rooted in University’s History

Special Projects Editor

Published: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


It is an average Saturday night at Boston College. Experienced juniors and seniors flock to Mary Anne's, Cityside, and Joshua Tree; sophomores look to showcase their breadth of social connections by prowling Walsh Hall, and eager freshmen play musical Mods until the 1:50 a.m. Newton bus leaves Lower Campus. A significant number of them will choose to drink. If these thousands of BC students that choose to go out on the weekend can be considered a small representation of nation-wide trends, then 62.5 percent of them will drink to the point that they wake up with a hangover, 54.1 percent may vomit, and 30.2 percent may miss a class. Roughly 10 percent will be taken advantage of sexually.

 These are statistics that have been closely monitored by the University with increasing intensity over the past few decades, as administrators have sought to curb the drinking culture. But while a member of the current graduating class may complain that the drinking policies at BC are harsh and sometimes unreasonable, those graduating from the same institution in the 1970s, 1980s, and even the 1990s would assert they were anything but.

Though BC is celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary this year, the changes it has undergone in just the past 50 years are significant – particularly in regards to student life. The class of 2013 has the lowest number of commuter students to date – a testament to the fact that BC's residential landscape, the structure that has been the defining force in its collective drinking habits, has undergone considerable changes.

"Not a weekend goes by that alcohol poisoning is not a problem," said Robyn Priest, assistant dean for student development. "Campus is quiet on Friday and Saturday in terms of viable social options, and, couple that with the prevalence of alcohol on campus and poor enforcement, and it's not hard to understand why binge drinking is so prevalent," she said. "It's a combination of all of these factors that makes the environment how it is."

 The University has an official stance as a "dry," or alcohol-free, campus, and because of this, a series of policies, ranging from a simple warning to suspension from the University, remain as popular punishments for drinking-related violations.

Administrators hold that, first and foremost, the integrity of the law dictating the national drinking age should be upheld. Even so, student safety is also hailed as a critical concern for the administration, officials said.

Discussions have arisen lately regarding the implementation of an amnesty policy that would serve as a stopgap to ensure that students feel comfortable taking themselves or another person to seek medical attention without fear of serious reprimand, should they need help.

The debate regarding the specific nature of this amnesty policy is ongoing, mainly due to the fact that administrators hold reservations that implementing such a policy could possibly exacerbate alcohol abuse on campus.

"My main concern is student safety," said Paul Chebator, senior associate dean for student development. "We always try to give students the benefit of the doubt and take their needs into consideration, but one of the issues is how many time should we allow that?"

The culture around drinking as it exists on campus today has evolved with the University and the student body. Years of changes in the physical layout of the campus, the student body, and alterations in the drinking age have all contributed to shaping the drinking culture that prevails on and off campus today.

Though the University currently offers housing to the entirety of the freshman, sophomore, and senior classes, as well as 50 percent of the junior class, this has not always been the case.

The foundation for BC's residential campus was laid in 1907, when former University President Rev. Thomas I. Gasson, S.J., moved the campus from its original cramped quarters in the South End of Boston to farmland he acquired on the outskirts of the city. Following the construction of Gasson Hall and subsequent financial pitfalls, BC grew at a slow pace until the early 1970s, when Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., a pivotal character in BC's development, assumed the role of University president.

Under the plan that Monan established for the University, a campus that was formerly a collection of primarily commuter students became overwhelmingly residential. It was with the addition of these housing units – including Walsh Hall, Edmond's Hall, and the Mods – as well as the University becoming co-educational in 1970, that the drinking culture began to change significantly on campus.

 Drinking was legal at the age of 18 in 1970, making the implementation of drinking sanctions a somewhat moot point.

"There was a universal draft for the war in Vietnam," said Duane Deskins, former president of the UGBC and BC `76. "It's kind of hard to say you can die for [your] country but you can't drink for it."

Not only was drinking allowed on campus, but also the University capitalized on students' habits. "At one time, there were kegs at tailgates and at the Rat," Chebator said.

In September 1973, BC opened the "Rathskeller," an underground pub in the space currently occupied by the Rat. The Rathskeller was open on Thursday through Saturday nights for all students or faculty members who purchased a membership card, priced at $1 per semester. Administrators, including Dick Collins, the housing administrator, and Rev. Edward Hanrahan, the former dean of students, acted as faculty advisers for programming.

The Rathskeller was a completely student-run organization. Students from the UGBC and the Commuter's Council came together with BC Dining Services to offer their peers 12 oz. draft beers and 5 oz. glasses of wine priced at 30 cents each. The pub had a capacity of 550 and was consistently well attended on weekends and game days.

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