Community struggles with alcohol related hospitalizations

Overconsumption of alcohol and its dangerous effects  is not a new issue at Colby, but has recently become a hot button issue across campus as a result of a recent slew of hospitalizations. An email regarding alcohol consumption was sent on Sept. 29 from the Faculty in Residence and Assistant Resident Directors to the student body. The email addresses the recent number of hospitalizations due to drinking in excess, and the impact this is having on the Colby community. It also discusses the role of community in keeping one another safe, and points to a lack of comradeship at the core of this issue, “We know that in those moments when we needed help—long before we even knew we’d need help—what was missing was a friend to step in and tell us to slow down.” Rather than focusing on the individual moderating their own consumption, it looks to the student body as a whole to notice and stop peers who are overindulging.

Professor Aaron Hanlon, a faculty in residence living in Williams and partial author of the email, believes that “What looks like an individual decision is bound up in a whole lot of other issues” when it comes to drinking to a point of 

danger. Ideally, he would like to see the Colby student body work with a “collective knowledge and collective care to help people who don’t know better, by people who do know better.” September at Colby tends to be particularly bad for excessive drinking. Many students arrive with little or no experience drinking, and experiment for the first time here. This, mixed with the anxiety of being surrounded by a new group of people, can lead to students overdrinking.

A student may be at risk to drink too much depending on a multitude of factors in their life, such as stress or issues in their personal life. This is where community comes into play. If a student knows that their friend has been having a hard time, they are encouraged to help ensure that their friend does not drink too much as a result. Hanlon doesn’t want students thinking their role should be to monitor their peers, but rather he wants the student body to foster a culture “not of surveillance but of support”.

Meredith Keenan ’18, an Assistant Resident Director, states that the focus on community is derived from the idea that “when someone reaches the point of harm, they were most likely drinking with their friends or at a party throughout the night.” She adds that before going out with friends, students should “discuss how to change habits so that everyone has a safe night.” Whether or not one fully agrees with the idea that this issue should be solved by the community improving as a whole, the email still affected students’ mentalities as they went out this past weekend. “After receiving the email I did find myself paying more attention to how drunk my friends were getting, and watching to make sure they were okay. I think we do need to look out for each other, but each person still needs to be responsible for themselves and make responsible decisions,” said  Walter Thilly ’21.

Over this past month, security has reported 22 incidents involving intoxicated students. In total, there have been 25 hospital transports, 20 by ambulance and five by security, but it is unclear how many of those were due to intoxication. Peter Chenevert, the director of Colby Security, guesses around 15. By Sept. 22 of 2016, Colby Security had intervened on 25 alcohol related incidents, 15 of which were medical calls, and nine of which resulted in the student being hospitalized. At the same time in 2015, Security intervened on eight alcohol related incidents, seven of which resulted in hospitalization. Though the statistics appear to indicate that so far this year has been worse, it’s still difficult to say. Chenevert doesn’t feel that this September sticks out from previous ones, and Meredith Keenan ’18 agrees, saying “every year has good periods and bad periods. There are always so many factors to consider that it is hard to definitively say this past month was ‘worse’ or ‘better.’”

Campus Security has had a heightened presence at the Alfond Apartment complex on weekend nights this past month. There has been a bigger effort to enforce quiet hours, out of respect for students who aren’t partaking in late night activities, and students have noticed. “I’ve been in apartments where Security has knocked on the door at 1 a.m. to shut down the party, which didn’t happen last year” says Olivia Selemon ’19. She adds, “it feels as though my helicopter parents have been replaced by Security! They’re always watching us.” Campus security has also been trying to combat the extensive vandalism that happens at the Alfond Apartment complex every year, such as broken exit signs.

In the past year, students have felt that Security has begun enforcing the ban on drinking games more. Chenevert says that Security enforces Maine State Law, and on the subject of drinking games, Maine State Law bans establishments to “encourage or permit, on the licensed premises, any game or contest that involves drinking or the awarding of drinks as prizes.” Since 1996, drinking games have been banned in public spaces and at registered events on Mayflower Hill. The student handbook states that “because drinking games tend to encourage excessive drinking and/or drunkenness, tend to foreclose all other social interaction, and pressure players to drink over their limits, these activities are considered forms of irresponsible drinking.” Though many students have felt that the ban has become stricter, Keenan does not believe that it plays a huge factor in drinking on campus.

The email received on Sept. 29 states that “members of our community have stood by and watched while others drank to the point of danger, and in some cases left them off somewhere drunk, sick, and alone.” Though many factors come into play when discussing mitigating dangerous consumption of alcohol at Colby, the main idea is to encourage everyone to look out for their peers.