Dry-Campus Policy Conceals Problems
Any doubts as to whether the Saturday-formerly-known-as-Lutefest would still be a campus-wide day-drinking extravaganza were neatly cleared up in an email sent from Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb to the student body on Thursday, May 1.
When Student Government Association (SGA) leadership announced in early March that it would no longer fund the annual spring musical festival “as a result of consistently unsuccessful attempts” to “make Lutefest a fun and risk-free event,” student responses were mixed. Some were incensed. Some were relieved. Some, like me, were a little disappointed, but understanding.
I think Lutefest is fun, but I also understand why the administration and SGA feel that they cannot continue to throw money at an event they know becomes dangerous year after year. How can a school continue to condone a day that consistently results in vandalism and hospital visits? I get it.
But Dean Eaton-Neeb’s email informed students that “we are approaching the weekend that has, in recent history, included Lutefest and various activities that have often been associated with Lutefest.” The “various activities” to which she refers are, of course, drinking and—drinking. The email went on to say that the College had hired a professional security staff for Stav Hall, and that dorms buildings would be locked and res life staff would be on duty from Friday night through Sunday.
The email essentially informed students that the administration’s expectation was for Saturday to be a drunken mess. If private security is being hired, the expectation is that student behavior will necessitate it. If dorms are locked and residence life staff are on high alert, the expectation is that students will be hiding illicit substances and beverages within their dorm rooms. Students cannot be trusted with a music festival, but they are expected to be drunk and destructive anyway.
With this message, the administration effectively announced that even though the music is no longer, it expected the time-honored day-drinking tradition to continue. The College could not officially condone such an event, but it felt the need to unofficially do so in order to keep its students—and its property—safe.
What a dilemma.
On a larger scale, this is the same problem that arises from having a “dry campus” that isn’t actually dry. I refer to this phenomenon as the Big Drinking Lie.
On this alcohol-free campus, the majority of my friends and acquaintances drink alcohol on a regular basis. They do so in their dorm rooms and their houses. They keep bottles in their refrigerators and underneath their beds. They get together with their friends to drink on campus. And, as long as they do so without wreaking havoc in their corridors, res life staff leaves them in peace.
These same students, after a weekend of sneaky drinking, wake up on Monday morning, attend class, complete their homework, meet with groups to work on projects, study, engage in co-curricular activities and spend quality time with their friends. While there are always exceptions, most Oles seem to know how to drink responsibly and keep their priorities straight. So why the Big Drinking Lie?
Yes, money is an issue. It is always an issue, and it should be. It has to be. But while we are infinitely grateful to the generous (and, presumably, older and more conservative) donors, at what expense do we accept their money? Why do we continue to put up the dry campus facade?
Ultimately, last Saturday was just like any other Lutefest, with the exception of a positive, productive opportunity for student musicians to share their talents and the rest of the student body to share in community. The administration told students that, despite the cancellation of the festival, it still expected drinking and destruction. For the most part, I think, those expectations were met.
The truth is, Lutefest is not the problem. The real problem is twofold. The first piece is that some people are careless, selfish and disrespectful. In a community of responsible drinkers and non-drinkers, those few irresponsible ones have the power to turn a springtime festival into an event that becomes mortifying for the rest of us (security in the Caf—really?).
The second part of the problem is the Big Drinking Lie. A college filled with bright, caring, creative people who pride themselves on honor, honesty and community should be able to look at itself in the mirror. St. Olaf is not a dry campus, and pretending otherwise is now nothing more than a formality. An open, honest dialogue about alcohol in the St. Olaf community would lay the foundation for a healthier attitude toward drinking, open the door to a more trusting, adult relationship between the College and its students and affirm—not negate—St. Olaf’s honor.
Ashley Belisle ’15 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Hugo, Minn. She majors in English and Spanish.