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Alcohol will be permitted at collegewide outdoor events

Illustrated by Yifei Zhang

By Keegan Leibrock     10/6/20 10:35pm

After weeks of campus being fully dry, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman sent out an email on Sept. 17 outlining plans to allow for “public events with alcohol” on Rice’s campus. The email, which was sent to various residential college student leaders, presents the guidelines and considerations for colleges to host events with alcohol, including the necessity for a dry, alcohol-free college event before hosting events serving alcohol. According to college chief justices, this decision may be the first step toward an eventual wet campus.

In addition to outlining plans to allow for serving alcohol at student-led events, Gorman wrote that she was proud of Rice’s exceptionally low COVID-19 positive rates.

“We are now in the middle of our fourth week of classes, and I couldn’t be more pleased with our entire community, and especially our students,” Gorman wrote. “I remain deeply appreciative of the role that each of you is playing in our success.”

When asked in an email what she views as obstacles to allowing alcohol at college-wide events, Gorman suggested that the most important obstacle is ensuring that event plans are followed properly.

“I need to see evidence that students can follow a plan as designed, and not deviate from any of the safety procedures in place when alcohol is being consumed,” Gorman responded. “I remain cautiously optimistic.  Rice students have earned the chance to show they can be successful in managing these types of events.”

Some students said that they wonder if the trend of low positivity rates will continue after the introduction of alcohol. Jared Lyons, the chief justice at Will Rice College, said he was surprised after hearing the announcement.

“Honestly, I kind of thought campus would stay dry the whole year just because I assume it’s the safest decision for the university,” Lyons, a senior, said. “[The low COVID-19 case rate] we have now is impressive and I hope that they can maintain the same level of safety as they did when the campus was dry.”

With the plan to implement alcohol into public events, residential college leadership faces an unfamiliar set of obstacles. Even before the introduction of alcohol, some college leadership spoke of difficulties with promoting distancing guidelines at public events. For example, Johnston French, chief justice at Sid Richardson College, expressed concern over distancing at Keg in the Club, Sid’s weekly public event.

“I suppose alcohol does present minimal risks in terms of students’ judgment in that people may become laxer about distancing,” French, a junior, said. “Before we have those conversations, though, we need to make sure distancing is better at our non-alcohol public events.”

Petre Freeman, associate director of campus events, said there are many aspects of the event risk management process that can be difficult for students when planning events. 

"As a consultant reviewing events this year my priority is ensuring events uphold CMT COVID-19 guidelines," Freeman said. "For example... making sure the food and drinks are prepackaged and individually wrapped and also making sure that there are designated eating and drinking areas since masks have to be removed to eat and drink."

Freeman said there has been a total of four Undergraduate Events with Alcohol Registration forms submitted so far. 

In terms of newly-allowed college-wide events with alcohol, students face substantial logistical challenges in planning the events. For example, Jonathan Lloyd, a Will Rice College student with involvement in planning college events, discussed at lengths the difficulties in navigating Rice’s new guidelines.

“We feel that the restrictions and paperwork involved in planning these events are quite absurd as well as the hassles that we’ve gone through to make this happen,” Lloyd said. “To plan an event, we found out we had to fill out like three forms and we had to have a meeting with student activities.”

Still, most college leadership praised Rice for its handling of guidelines while offering areas for improvement. For instance, Chris Cone, the chief justice from Baker College, suggested that suitemates should be able to drink within the walls of their rooms.

“Before it’s an entirely wet campus, I want to be able to tell the people who are over 21 and caregiver trained that they should be able to drink within the confines of their room,” Cone, a junior, said. “But besides that, I think that Rice has done as good a job as possible given the circumstances.”

Still, other students, including McMurtry College Chief Justice Angelica Torres, expressed concerns on how a wet campus will affect college and campuswide culture, especially given the absence of alcohol on campus up until this point in the year.

“[McMurtry has] been trying to get away from making public events very alcohol-centered,” Torres, a junior, said. “Because these events will now be the only place for students to legally drink on campus, that makes it to where it will be alcohol-centered even though we were making efforts to move away from that.”

While some college leadership questioned how the shift would play into college culture, others said they were worried about the current state of Rice’s alcohol policies. French said that even in the midst of a pandemic, the risks of restricting alcohol consumption on-campus outweigh the benefits of potential COVID-19 prevention.

“In my opinion, keeping campus dry doesn’t stop people from drinking, it just stops people from registering their drinks,” French said.  “Even though amnesty still applies on a dry campus, I think it makes people more hesitant to call [Rice Emergency Medical Services] … I think [restrictions on alcohol] introduce a greater risk of people needing medical attention and avoiding calling for help.”

Lloyd said he was concerned about the sustainability of Rice’s dry campus, especially given the longevity of restrictions on alcohol consumption. 

“I think everyone’s waiting for [a wet campus] and the longer administration waits, the faster students are going to start breaking rules, and it’s just going to spiral down from there,” Lloyd said. “Eventually, I think students are going to think, ‘We’re never going to go [to a fully wet campus], I’m just going to take matters into my own hands,’ and that’s when you have problems.”

[10/8/2020 at 10:07 a.m.] The story was updated with quotes from Petre Freeman.

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