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Sunday, April 14, 2024 — Houston, TX

Make no change to alcohol policy

By Nathan Ogden     2/7/13 6:00pm


At every college government meeting that Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson has attended since NOD, he has emphasized the importance of treating students like adults. He said that although Texas state law does not view those under 21 as adults when it comes to alcohol, he still views us in this manner. Rightly so, he expects hosts to take responsibility for the guests at their party, exactly as any adult should. Additionally, he has emphasized individual responsibility when it comes to consuming alcohol. We wholeheartedly agree that Rice students should be held to this reasonable standard. 

We do not, however, believe drastic changes to the current policy are necessary or will make students any safer. Hutchinson convened an Alcohol Policy Advisory Committee in November to provide recommendations on defining private gatherings and limiting the types and amount of alcohol allowed at such gatherings. Anyone who has read Rice's alcohol policy can see that it provides ample guidelines for enforcement and safety. The problems that arose at Night of Decadence can be traced back to insufficient support for chief justices, lack of quality alcohol education during Orientation Week and an unwillingness by the university to enforce its own policy. 

Currently, CJs receive no regular training to provide advice and expectations from Student Judicial Programs. While APAC made recommendations about increasing support for CJs, Hutchinson did not even ask the committee to comment on this lack of support. He claimed the current policy is unenforceable but has done nothing to assist the CJs in enforcing it. This past spring, CJs did not even meet with SJP before Beer Bike. SJP should have held regular meetings with CJs in order to provide them with them with advice, support and expectations for how to enforce Rice's current alcohol policy. 

Although student governance is one of Rice's most distinctive values, CJs should still expect a level of support compatible with the high degree of responsibility inherent in the position. The CJ's role is one of the most challenging across campus; not providing them with regular meetings about the health and safety of the campus is unacceptable. Until the university takes the CJs more seriously, we cannot expect the drinking culture to change across campus. Hutchinson also did not ask for recommendations on changes to O-Week and continuing freshmen education about alcohol. The 2011 O-Week coordinators knew they had a challenge when it came to educating freshmen about alcohol given the fragile state of the hard-liquor probation. This group truly rose to the occasion and provided a comprehensive view of alcohol at Rice through lectures and panels at both the university and college levels. Although these programs had their faults, they were a definitive step toward breaking the status quo. 

Come 2012, however, the importance of O-Week alcohol education decreased. Instead of fixing the small kinks in the previous year's program, the alcohol education was completely reset, with far less emphasis on college-level programming. The scenario-based education which had been effective in 2011 was completely phased out in 2012. 

A good program for O-Week to use would be based on CHOICES. Currently, however, this program is only for people who have been identified as having a drinking problem or have received a citation for underage consumption of alcohol, yet this information could be useful for all students. Many incoming freshmen have no prior history of drinking and could therefore benefit the most from information about standard drink sizes, blood alcohol content and tolerance to alcohol. As it stands right now, they are not made adequately aware of this information. Many families do not educate about these issues, and the university should take responsibility for providing this knowledge. 

Lastly, with regard to the belief that the current alcohol policy is insufficient, this is simply not true. The methods of enforcement are clearly spelled out within the policy. According to Section F of the current alcohol policy, individual colleges can be sanctioned for being in violation of Rice's alcohol policy through fines and alcohol-free periods. On the night of NOD, 11 students were sent to Houston-area hospitals. We both agree this number of transports is completely unacceptable and misrepresents the quality of Rice students. 

That being said, multiple transports from the same college should raise a red flag about that college's enforcement of the Rice alcohol policy. Two colleges in particular had three transports each. SJP should have investigated what parties were being thrown the night of NOD at these colleges. To our knowledge, no such investigation was performed even though the alcohol policy allows for the university to investigate and sanction such violations on a college level. Clearly this lack of follow-through on the alcohol policy by the administration undermines the effectiveness of the alcohol policy as a whole. 

If SJP actually enforced Section F of Rice's alcohol policy and educated CJs about Section F, then colleges would be incentivized to behave in a more responsible manner. The enforcement of this section of the policy has not been taking place, and as a result colleges have no oversight when it comes to preventing unsafe and illegal drinking. 

Rice definitely does need to make changes to its drinking culture both in regards to safety and the expectations on students. The best way to facilitate this cultural shift is not through making draconian changes to the alcohol policy. In fact, enacting these significant changes could potentially make matters worse despite their good intentions. Instead, the administration needs to support and enforce its current policy, provide sufficient education to incoming CJs, and work with the O-Week coordinators to give comprehensive and relevant alcohol education to new students. 

Christian Neal is a junior and president of Lovett College. Nathan Ogden is a senior and chief justice of Lovett College. 

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