The Nights on the Heights fallacy endures—as does the logic of deteriorated national policies on drinking.
Ask a Boston College tour guide about the campus drinking culture, and you’re likely to hear about Nights on the Heights, a program offered at BC as a healthy alternative to alcohol. For those wishing to abstain from drinking at BC, a wonderland of free movie nights, dance parties, and build-a-bear workshops ostensibly awaits. Nights on the Heights is a lie, though—it’s the failed idealism of a generation that sought to end drinking at America’s colleges with strict regulations and safe alternatives. The program itself no longer exists here at BC, having effectively been absorbed into the newly created Campus Activities Board at the end of last semester. And it arguably never did exist, at least not in the way it was described.
There’s no painless way for college students to “opt out” of the drinking culture. According to a 2012 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 80 percent of college students drink alcohol. This means that statistically, a non-drinking freshman in a forced triple on Upper has a 4 percent likelihood of living with students that share his values on drinking, and if he lives in a quad, this number goes down to 0.8 percent.
Assuming the drinking habits of potential roommates are not a consideration in the housing process, a non-drinking sophomore in a Walsh 8-man has a 0.00128 percent chance of living with seven other students who share her beliefs on alcohol. In reality, you could try to pick roommates based on your perception of how much they drink. To completely eliminate your exposure to University sanctions related to alcohol, however, would require you pick your friends based solely on this criteria—or alternately, limit your dorm experience to the University’s Healthy Living housing—and then report your delinquent roommate to the appropriate authorities as soon as you notice his or her habits shift.
Regardless of our personal stances on underage drinking, we need to acknowledge that the total avoidance of BC’s drinking culture is simply not an option for students, and so long as we’re all bound to it—students and administrators—it’s in our best interest to make it better. State and federal laws on drinking currently forbid University officials to address the problem in a direct manner. Neatly tailored policies that encourage healthy drinking currently are not in the University’s official playbook, if only for the reason that they can’t be.
Currently, the residential director of each on-campus community has jurisdiction over the punishment students receive for drinking, a welcome reform over the near-draconian “Matrix” system in place two years ago, which demanded minimum punishments for broadly defined offenses. RDs now have the power to make distinctions between binge drinking and healthier habits, hard liquor and beer, out-of-control environments and safe ones. The catch is that, even though they do have that ability, they really can’t tell you that’s the case—because if you’re underage, legally, everything is off limits.
As students, our best bet of curbing the binge drinking culture—cutting down on the incidence of sexual assault, hospitalization, and other negative consequences of excess drinking—is to actually create the safe, healthy environment that University programs like Nights on the Heights only made in theory.
Further developing BC’s music scene, for example, could push alcohol from the center of weekend activities and more toward the periphery. Two weeks ago, the University allowed BC rock band Lucid Soul to play a concert in the Mods. This integration of live music with the already existing weekend culture created a true alternative for students not looking to binge drink on a Saturday night. More rigid University programming, such as the concerts hosted by CAB, cannot create a safe drinking environment—they can only offer an alternative, one for which students are prone to drink in excess before arriving.
The amount of money spent on programming at BC is a testament to just how concerned administrators are about changing the binge drinking situation. Well intentioned as most University officials are, however, from the student’s perspective, the school’s current policies can appear as an arbitrary system of punishment and police activity, founded on the unreasonable expectation that students can simply avoid the University’s drinking scene.
The Night on the Heights fallacy is the school’s imperfect way of communicating to parents that University authorities are actively seeking out a healthy drinking culture at BC—just not in the way stated. There’s no painless way to “opt out,” nor should it be imperative that students do. Until national policies change, we might just have to endure the euphemisms, and do our best to make these nights on the Heights our own.
Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Editor