SGA presents community forum on campus drinking culture

The drinking culture at Colby has become an increasingly controversial topic on campus in recent years. On Tuesday, Nov. 7, the Student Government Association (SGA) presented a community forum to encourage a dialogue on the drinking culture on campus, with Assistant Director of Security Jen Sanderson, Montgoris Assistant Professor of Psychology Allecia Reid, Substance Use Intervention and Health Promotion Coordinator Katie Sawyer, and Michael Decker ’18, an economics major and a member of the Colby hockey team. SGA Parliamentarian Maddie Partridge ’18 moderated the event.

The email circulated to the Colby community stated that “the goal of this forum is to identify the major causes of harmful drinking culture, brainstorm possible solution, and clarify any questions that students have.”

Colby’s drinking culture and its influence on the social scene at Colby is discussed constantly among students, student leaders, faculty and staff, but this event was sparsely attended by students, staff and faculty alike, and crucially lacked a discussion on ways to move forward.

The event was held in Pulver Pavilion, and was attended by faculty, staff and students. Partridge moderated most of the forum, posing questions submitted by individuals ahead of time. The floor later opened up to questions from the audience. The panelists began by pointing out that they are not interested in deterring drinking from happening at Colby, they just want it to be healthier for students.

The first question focused on medical transports because of alcohol. Sanderson reported that in both the fall of 2016 and so far in the fall of 2017, there were 16 transports. Fall is generally the part of the year with the most transports. 16 transports for a semester is lower than in past years, but still among the higher rates in the NESCAC. Sawyer pointed out that she has observed the culture of students feeling like they have to drink in order to enjoy themselves fading over the past few years, which is a positive sign for a less drinking centered campus culture.

The concept of the “Two Colbys” was also discussed. The panel described it in the sense that things that would not be acceptable during the week are suddenly tolerated on the weekends. Reid said that as a professor, she feels disconnected from weekend life on campus, but believes that this is why more faculty and staff are being encouraged to live on campus and engage with students outside the classroom.

She also pointed out that through her work studying drinking on college campuses, she has found that students qho engage in more drinking tend to have lower grades.  Sawyer responded to this topic by commenting that the concept of dual identities and cultures at Colby “doesn’t seem like good emotional health.” Jen Sanderson pointed out that she does not see this applying to a majority of the community; it is a “small portion of the student body behaving badly.” She argued that not all things that happen on the weekends are bad, pointing out that Mary Low Coffee House has expanded its hours on weekends, and that she loves seeing students from athletic teams picking up beer cans and trash from outside the apartments after students have headed back to their dorms for the night.

Another area of debate was the role that athletes play in drinking culture at Colby. Reid pointed out that athletes tend to drink more than the typical college student, a trend that  begins in high school. The fact that  Colby’s student body is approximately 33 percent varsity athletes, while many more students played sports in high school might help explain why Colby is often perceived as having one of the most serious drinking cultures among liberal arts schools. Decker spoke on this topic, pointing out that team culture is shifting, with coaches and teammates holding each other accountable to practice safe and healthy drinking. He said that he has noticed this change over the past four years, among teams and with the hiring of a lot of new athletic department staff. Decker also told the audience that he thinks that the new policy requiring many teams to live on campus has had a big impact on campus culture.

When the questions opened up to the audience, students asked questions about the hard alcohol ban and the administration’s decision to strictly control Colby traditions surrounding alcohol, such as Champagne on the Steps, beer die, and Loudness. Sanderson said that the hard alcohol ban was a reaction by the Board of Trustees to a 2008 Champagne on the Steps that resulted in several students being transported because of alcohol. She pointed out that Doghead is allowed to continue because it encourages relatively safe drinking habits with the focus of pacing yourself to make it to the steps.