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AlcohOLES: thirsty for change

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Empty wine bottles are hidden among books in Rolvaag, beer cans hang from trees outside Kildahl and glass evidence of a weekend spent drinking is piled high in dorm recycling bins. What looks a bit like a senior art project is actually a protest by a group of St. Olaf students who call themselves the AlcohOLES.

The AlcohOLES are requesting that the Board of Regents revisit St. Olaf’s dry campus policy. Flyers that the group has spread around campus note a few of the hypocrisies and harmful aspects of the current alcohol policy. They argue that the dry campus policy fosters an unhealthy drinking culture, one in which students turn to binge drinking behind closed doors and avoid seeking necessary medical help in fear of punishment. The AlcohOLES urge the Board of Regents to recognize that drinking occurs, and will occur, on campus regardless of the policies in place.

The group encourages students to show their support for the movement by photographing empty alcohol containers that they’ve placed publically around campus and sending them to the AlcohOLE email, alcohole666@gmail.com. The photos are then posted to a Tumblr page, alcoholesunite.tumblr.com.

After some initial buzz on YikYak, the group has slowly and quietly been gaining momentum. Jack Williams ’16 supports the idea behind the movement, but was a little confused about the group’s original motives.

“I thought that they laid out a lot of good points, but they also sort of framed it in such a way that it seemed kind of like a joke,” Williams said. “I get some of the moves they made were probably very purposeful, like for example ‘alcohole666’ e-mail alias. I’m sure it was part joke, part commentary on the demonization of alcohol on this campus, but I think that by doing elements like that, they made it kind of unclear whether their purpose was to bring a serious case up in front of the Board of Regents.”

The AlcohOLES have been responsive to the feedback from students. They are dedicated to making sure that the movement is representative of the whole campus.

“We don’t want this protest to be about our own opinions – we want it to represent everyone’s,” the AlcohOLES said. “Ideally, a reconstructed alcohol policy will take into account the students that don’t drink, the students that drink responsibly and the students that struggle with substance abuse and need better support from the administration.”

At this point the AlcohOLES have not received any response from the St. Olaf administration, the Board of Regents, or the Student Government Association.

“It does not surprise us that these authorities have still remained silent. We simply wish that silence be broken. We simply wish for those who have the well-being of St. Olaf students in their hands to actually question what is best for our well-being,” the AlcohOLES said.

Despite the lack of official recognition, the AlcohOLES have seen discussion of campus alcohol policy begin to form. Social media platforms including Facebook and YikYak have fostered new conversations. The campus sketch comedy show “In Black” satirically addressed the policy in their recent performances, and there is also a petition against the current policy on change.org.

The conversation began by the AlcohOLES is one that St. Olaf students have been wanting to have for a long time. Sara Albertson ’18 said that she would definitely support an open discussion about St. Olaf’s dry campus policy.

“It’s inevitable for any college campus to have drinking on it… it’s something that the United States deals with as a whole,” Albertsonsaid. “The [St Olaf] drinking policy, I believe, makes students overdrink, because they have to pregame in their rooms or somewhere private before they go into a public spot. And usually, when students go out they don’t go back to their rooms until later, so they consume more alcohol than they would if they could bring a beer with them to a football game, because they want to make it last.”

Naomi Chalk ’18 agrees.

“I think the only people affected by [dry campus policy] are the people that are over 21. People that are under 21 are going to smuggle in alcohol no matter if the campus is dry or wet,” Chalk said. “I don’t really care, personally, because I’m not a huge partier, but I think the fact that St. Olaf is a dry campus makes people a lot riskier with their alcohol consumption.”

While debate over the issue persists, the AlcohOLES will continue their attempt to stimulate the conversation. It is well understood by the group and students on campus that similar movements have been unsuccessful in the past, but the AlcohOLES are committed to keeping the discussion current.

“There are many of us – a huge majority, we’d reckon – who have kept our mouths shut for years because we don’t think that anything we actually do will constitute a move towards change,” the AlcohOLES said. “If we can convince even one of those people that it is worth it to express our thoughts and that, for the sake of our own health and the health of our friends we share this community with, we are required to do so, then the AlcohOLES are one step closer in our goal.”

whitfo1@stolaf.edu

Graphic Credit: ERIN KNADLER/MANITOU MESSENGER