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APAC recommends hard liquor restrictions

By Molly Chiu     2/14/13 6:00pm


In a report released to the student body Thursday, the Alcohol Policy Advisory Committee presented its recommendations for changes to the alcohol policy to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson. Major proposed changes included a ban on hard alcohol for students under the age of 21, a stricter definition of a private gathering, a limit on the number of people allowed to attend a private gathering and explicit expectations for hosts of private gatherings. 

Hutchinson has not yet reached any conclusions about potential changes to the alcohol policy, but he said whichever changes he decides to make would be implemented partially, if not in full, before the end of the semester. 

According to APAC Chair Matthew Taylor, one of the major instances of alcohol abuse at Rice has been underage students drinking hard alcohol. In early discussions, the committee considered a complete ban on hard alcohol, but Taylor, who is the associate dean of undergraduates, said the committee ultimately decided to limit the ban to those under the legal drinking age. 

"The split over a recommendation on hard alcohol boiled down to this: Some members wanted to give 21-year-olds the freedom to make decisions in their own rooms and to keep hard alcohol in their rooms," Taylor said. "Others agreed that 21-year-olds should be able to consume hard alcohol under registered conditions but should not be allowed to keep hard alcohol in their rooms." 

The committee did suggest a complete ban of hard alcohol during large public parties, Beer Bike, Dis-Orientation and prospective student events like Vision and Owl Days, according to the APAC report. 

Not all students agreed that a hard liquor ban would be effective, citing the successes and failures of the previous ban from two years ago. 

Sid Richardson College sophomore Kara van Schilfgaarde said she did not think the previous hard liquor ban made a difference in student behavior. 

"I don't think [the ban] was effective," van Schilfgaarde said. "Hard liquor was still [at parties]. [The change] has to come from student attitudes." 

However, Will Rice college junior Erica Johns said she did notice a change in student attitudes as an associate justice at her college when the previous ban was lifted. 

"From what I saw, I think [the ban] at least got people to think about alcohol and partying in a more serious way," Johns said. "It was successful in getting people to be a little more responsible in how they consume alcohol." 

The recommendations do not make any specific mention regarding age limits for the possession or consumption of non-hard liquor. 

"We understand that students are going to make choices that in some cases will violate state laws, and although we don't condone that, our biggest concern is that they don't make choices which are unsafe for themselves, others or their community," Hutchinson said. 

In addition to limiting the types of alcohol, the committee recommended that the amount of alcohol be capped depending on the size of the party, Taylor said. For instance, a chief justice would not approve a keg to be at a private gathering held in a single-occupancy room. 

The recommendations also include limitations on the number of people permitted to gather in a private space, which is defined as a student bedroom or a common room enclosed in a student suite, according to the APAC report. The committee reached its recommendation on the safe number of people allowed in a private space based on a number of factors, including fire codes, calculations based on floor plans of differently sized rooms and limits set by peer universities, Taylor said. 

Ultimately, the committee decided to recommend that private gathering attendance not exceed seven times the number of residents assigned to the room, with no more than 40 attendees allowed in total, Taylor said. 

Jones College senior Colin MacCormack said he thinks the limit on private party attendance would be difficult to implement because of the differences between colleges. 

"They want to come out with a blanket policy that applies to every college, but that's tricky to do because the colleges are laid out differently," MacCormack said. "Each space is different and every college has their own places that they like to hang out and party." 

Baker College senior Claire Garney said she would worry about the consequences of a limited number of attendees at a private party. 

"If you're limiting the number of people, there are going to be people left out," Garney said. "There could either be problems with enforcement or problems with the campus feel that we have now where everyone is included." 

The recommendations place a large portion of the responsibility for a private gathering on the host, who, under the recommendations, would have to register the party in advance with the college chief justice and clearly state the number of guests, the time and duration of the party, and the amount and type of alcohol served, Taylor said. The host would then be held accountable for following the party plan. 

Brown College chief justice John Muller, a member of the APAC committee, said that discussion of enforcement was key in the committee's meetings. 

"I think all of our recommendations could be handled [by the Rice community]," Muller, a junior, said. "Whenever we discussed an idea, we always talked about enforcement and its limitations and whether it was a reasonable suggestion to which the colleges could adapt." 

According to Taylor, the chief justices asked for a clear set of expectations and rules for both the college court system and the college community. 

"We've been as clear as we can in terms of numbers and expectations for our recommendations," Taylor said. "If a CJ comes upon an [unregistered gathering], it's easy to enforce, and if it is registered, they have a clear set of numbers, and they know who the host is." 

In order to help chief justices and associate justices handle these types of situations, the committee proposed increased training, Taylor said. 

Additionally, Hutchinson said the college court system needs the support of the colleges. 

"It is true that we have struggled to recreate the sense of the community in which the college courts are expected to do the enforcement," Hutchinson said. "Students should expect the college courts will do that, and should respect the authority of the college courts as needed to enforce the alcohol policy." 

Hutchinson said he was very grateful for APAC's work on the hard issues surrounding alcohol policy. Moving forward, he said he will consider APAC's recommendations while also consulting with university leadership, including President David Leebron, Provost George McClendon, and residential college masters and presidents. 

According to Hutchinson, alcohol abuse has been on the rise in the past few years. 

"The number of students who required medical care as a result of alcohol has been dramatically higher in the last four years," Hutchinson said. "We have been working on those issues to find ways to appropriately educate students about safe behavior, about the rules and about the importance of respecting those rules." 

Hutchinson said while alcohol safety generally improved during the previous hard alcohol probation, the end of the probation saw an upturn in alcohol-related infractions. 

"[This increase] re-elevated our concerns that we needed to improve the situation," Hutchinson said. "Our goal is to keep students safe, even in those circumstances where students are making decisions outside of our reach. We try to make a set of rules and procedures that influence students to make appropriate choices." 

MacCormack said he worries that a stricter alcohol policy could have a negative impact on students' attitudes towards drinking. 

"I don't think Rice has a drinking problem that's any better or any worse than other schools, but we're more out in the open about it," MacCormack said. "Everything happens on campus so we're very aware of our problem. I would be afraid that if we eventually moved towards a more stringent alcohol policy, the drinking is not going to go away, it's just going to go into hiding." 

Joey Capparella also contributed to this article. 

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