In a Jan 29 e-mail, President Russell K. Osgood announced the formation of a Task Force on Alcohol Policies and Issues that will produce a report evaluating College policies related to alcohol and suggesting ways to improve them. The body’s members, roughly half of whom are students, is merely an exploratory organ and will not issue any policy changes.
While the Task Force will conduct a comprehensive and community-based examination of the drug and alcohol policies, it will not be charged with implementing any changes to them, according to Vice President for Student Affairs and ex-officio Task Force Member Houston Dougharty.
Dougharty said the Task Force would likely not recommend a complete overhaul of the current policies. “I see no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water if we’ve got an environment that works and that people can be responsible with,” Dougharty said. Instead most of the Task Force’s recommendations will likely be adjustments to existing policy.
Members said that they do not have hard plans, but expect their work will emphasize community education about the responsible use of alcohol. “Every Monday morning, I know of people who get themselves in a pickle … legally or they get themselves in a pickle in terms of their health,” Dougharty said. “I think that we have a responsibility to provide those folks with education, so that they don’t make those choices.”
Task Force Co-Chair and Wellness Coordinator Jen Jacobsen ’95 said that one recommendation might be to introduce more educational programming into some of the College’s orientation activities. “Right now, I don’t know that we have a large component in our New Student Orientation about alcohol,” Jacobsen said. “And it seems unsafe for students to learn through trial and error.”
Member of the Task Force, Assistant Director of Residence Life and Loosehead RLC Kim Hinds-Brush reiterated general support for the current policy by saying that a shift toward a dry campus could potentially lead to more problems with alcohol abuse. “People will still drink, they’ll just do it behind closed doors, and not ask for help when they need it,” Hinds-Brush said. “This way it’s out in the open and I don’t worry so much about someone drinking alone in their room and passing out and nobody noticing or calling for help.”
The policy review comes at a time of increased concern over the use of alcohol on campus, with 11 alcohol-related hospitalizations reported to Student Affairs last semester. Osgood said that he had been contacted by both students and faculty concerned with problems related to alcohol. “I might say that it’s the first time ever in my time here I’ve had students contact me to complain about alcohol-related behavior. In 11 years, I’ve never heard anything until this fall,” he said.
However, discussing Grinnell’s alcohol culture will not be limited to numbers of hospitalizations but will also likely include information from conversations with students.
The review will consist of four administrators, a member of SGA, a member of student staff and two Students-at-large. Sam Forman ’11 and Chloe Moryl ’10 (who is features editor for the S&B), as well as student staff member Dodge Greenley ’11 and SGA President Neo Morake ’09 will sit on the committee. The meetings will also be open to other students.
“It will be a good opportunity for students to take part in things that are happening on campus, especially with something as huge as the alcohol task force,” Morake said. “This is a good way for [students] to actively take part in decision-making.”
According to U.S. Department of Education’s website, under the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, any institution of higher education that receives “financial assistance under any federal program must certify that it has adopted and implemented a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees.”
According to Dougharty, previous reviews were conducted entirely within Student Affairs, with comparatively little input from students, faculty or other administrators. “[The Department of Education] suggest using a community-wide approach, of getting all the stakeholders involved in looking at what the issues are,” he said. “Because drug-free schools has not only to do with places to study but also as a place of employment.”