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Changes to alcohol policy announced

By Joey Capparella and Molly Chiu     4/18/13 7:00pm

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson announced a new version of the alcohol policy in an email to the entire Rice community Monday, April 15.

Major changes, which will go into effect at the start of the fall semester, include limitations on the types and quantities of alcohol allowed in students' rooms, limitations on the number of people allowed at a private gathering, requirements for hosting a private gathering, increased specificity for the definition of private spaces, and plans for enforcement of these policies, according to Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said he first presented the changes to college presidents, chief justices and masters April 8 and then to Orientation Week advisors April 13 during advisor training.

Hutchinson said a new section on hard alcohol was added to the campus alcohol policy. This section includes a ban on alcohol over 50 percent by volume, a ban on possession of more than two liters of alcohol above 22 percent by volume unless all residents of a living space are over 21, and an outright ban on consumption of hard alcohol on days of major events such as Dis-Orientation, Beer Bike and large public parties.

"The clear intent is to separate hard alcohol from people under the age of 21," Hutchinson said. "We know empirically that's where we're having problems with students abusing alcohol. [The intent is to] respect the opportunities for people over the age of 21 to drink alcohol in ways which are consistent with the law."

Brown College senior John Lloyd said he thought the new policy could potentially encourage unsafe behavior but that this could be avoided by a culture of openness within the colleges.

"There's always the possibility of students hiding in their rooms and drinking in unhealthy ways," Lloyd said. "If colleges function as communities where they open up to each other, that shouldn't happen. Everything is set up to work, but everyone has to buy into it."

One point of emphasis in the email sent to students was a reiteration of the ban on drinking games, a rule that is included in the existing policy. According to Hutchinson, this decision came from President David Leebron.

"We need students to understand that any form of competitive drinking does lead to excessive consumption of alcohol," Hutchinson said.

Lloyd said he did not think this ban could realistically be enforced.

"People are still going to play beer pong," Lloyd said. "I don't think that is going to stop. [The administration] probably didn't want to delineate exactly what is and what isn't a drinking game, so they had to word it that way."

Another section on private gatherings has been modified to reflect a limit on the number of people allowed at a private gathering, Hutchinson said. Although the Alcohol Policy Advisory Committee recommended seven times the number of residents of a room or suite, the new policy sets the limit at six times the number of residents of a room or suite, according to Hutchinson.

Wiess College Chief Justice Lilly Yu said these limitations are not an attempt to infringe on students.

"[For] people who have already demonstrated that they can be responsible and reasonable and safe, those numbers won't be new to them," Yu, a junior, said. "They won't think, '24 people, oh crap!' One of the benefits will be that people interrogate their normative definition of what it means to throw a safe party."

Yu said she cautions against a misinterpretation of these limits as an attempt to over-police student behavior.

"Based on their experiences, people are going to question those nitpicky details, and they're going to want to push them," Yu said. "That's not the intention. The intention is to put these things into perspective, but in order to do that, you have to draw the line somewhere."

Sid Richardson College Master Dale Sawyer agreed, saying he hopes the changes will not affect the role of the masters in relation to the college's drinking culture.

"I don't think any of the masters want to be put in the position of being policemen," Sawyer said. "I do want to be able to talk openly and honestly with the students at Sid so that we can work together to try to find ways to allow parties ... to be fun and engaging and yet keep in mind [Hutchinson's] three R's - being reasonable, responsible and respectful."

Martel College freshman Alina Dattagupta said she would be potentially concerned about students going off campus to drink because of the stricter regulations.

"I'm scared that [the drinking culture] might move off campus, which in the end is a lot more dangerous," Dattagupta said. "We're lucky that we have so many amenities on campus like [Rice Emergency Medical Services] and caregiving. Nobody needs a designated driver."

Dattagupta said she thought enforcement would be the most important challenge both for college leadership and students in general.

"Each college will have to enforce it in a certain way," Dattagupta said. "[Rice University Police Department] isn't going to break down doors."

In terms of enforcement, Hutchinson noted the importance of increased training for chief justices and regular meetings between chief justices and Associate Dean of Undergraduates Don Ostdiek.

"The chief justices will have to make sure that [hosts] are compliant with these requirements and that the students involved are going to be reasonable, responsible and respectful," Hutchinson said.

Yu said she thinks it will be crucial for chief justices to maintain good relationships with the members of their colleges.

"Please reach out to your CJs if you have concerns," Yu said. "We want to be reasonable and proactive and have people understand that the concerns that everyone else has, we have them as well."

Modifications have also been made to more clearly define the responsibilities of private gathering hosts. Changes include requirements such as the host registering the party with the chief justice 24 hours before the gathering, remaining present at all times during the gathering and observing guest limits on the party, Hutchinson said. Hosts will also be required to maintain control over all alcohol at the party, including refraining from serving to minors and ensuring that guests who have had too much to drink do not receive any more alcohol, he said.

Although the changes will not go into effect until the 2013-14 school year, Hutchinson said he urges students to be mindful of the changes as they finish this school year.

"Continued cooperation this semester with the spirit of the new policy is highly desirable," Hutchinson said.

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