Since becoming the dean of undergraduates last summer, I have spoken in many venues, including the pages of the Thresher, about the most impressive aspect of the Rice student body: its long-standing and pervasive caring culture. Rice students individually give of themselves to educate each other, to watch out for each other, to encourage each other. And collectively, the Rice student body works to provide a support network that creates a healthy and caring community. This strength of our university defines a major part of who we are and how we live, so much so that my colleagues and I have begun describing this as a "Culture of Care." This is an initiative that focuses on the responsibility each of us has as a member of the Rice community and on the understanding that individual awareness, decision making and actions can make a vital difference in the lives of our fellow students and in the quality of our community. This initiative also emphasizes that the vitality of our community depends on the nurturing of this Culture of Care through conversation, education and responsible student self-governance. By placing additional attention on this aspect of Rice, we will highlight those areas in which we are successful in supporting one another and also address those areas which need greater support, resources or attention.

In the context of this Culture of Care, our community has once again begun the sometimes difficult discussions to promote awareness of the use and (occasional) abuse of alcohol on campus. Ensuring the safety of our students, protecting our college homes and our campus and improving the quality of the lives of all will require an effective response from our entire community, most notably our students. It is imperative that every one of us realizes that our alcohol policy is in fact predicated on and dependent upon our Culture of Care. The policy is absolutely clear about this.

At the community level, in preparing and organizing events, each college or student organization is responsible for planning and providing the support, enforcement and protection necessary to ensure healthy and safe behaviors by everyone. Under the policy, the student community assumes this responsibility as a duty of care to its members. This is true in large public events, but it is every bit as true when an individual or group of individuals decides to hold a private gathering in their own room. The Culture of Care embedded in the alcohol policy defines an expectation that we will not create an environment where one of our fellow students might become injured or ill. To the contrary, we must maintain the unwavering commitment that we will make intelligent decisions and take all necessary measures to prevent illness or injury and to stop unsafe behaviors before they start. The well-being of our students depends on this, and the alcohol policy places this requirement squarely on you, the students.

At the individual level, each person has the responsibility to be aware of others. If an individual is making a poor or unsafe decision, we must exercise the care to intervene on his or her behalf. If an individual has become ill, we must call in the needed assistance and remain present until help arrives.

We are having these conversations because we are concerned about serious lapses in acceptance of these community and individual responsibilities inherent in the alcohol policy. The resolution of this problem is in our Culture of Care and the understanding that our commitment to that culture underlies our policies, our practices and our traditions. This is true for you as students but also for all elements of our community, including the members of my organization, the Rice University Police Department and all members of the faculty and staff.

Our alcohol policy is but one very visible manifestation of our Culture of Care. This culture pervades our lives, our work and our studies at Rice and is evident in such volunteer positions as the Rice EMTs, Rice health advisers, peer academic advisers, academic fellows and mentors, O-Week coordinators, advisers and co-advisers, diversity facilitators, the Honor Council, college courts and many, many more. It is very hard to imagine life at Rice without these wonderful volunteers who devote their time and energy to the success and well-being of their fellow students.

Your insights are essential into how the Culture of Care exists at Rice and how it can be maintained and enhanced. Within your communities, think about your expectations for yourselves and each other and how these things define the care we have for each other. How will we hold individuals, the community and ourselves responsible for upholding these expectations?

We need a renewed commitment to these most basic elements of our fundamental nature as a community. My staff and I will be laying these challenges in front of you on a consistent basis in the months to come, and we stand ready to provide the advice, the encouragement, the forums and the support necessary for the initiatives you create. Please send your thoughts and insights to cultureofcare@rice.edu.

John Hutchinson is the dean of undergraduates