The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

We need to rethink how we talk about alcohol


The dialog surrounding alcohol and its consumption at Loyola is a conversation plagued with misunderstanding, miscommunication and misperception, but it’s a conversation that needs to happen.

Like it or not, alcohol is omnipresent at our university. Every resident of every age will encounter it or its effects at some point during their time here and its impact is comprehensive. Thousands of people are involved spanning the breadth of our community: students who drink underage, students of drinking age, Student Life officials, educators, staff, health professionals, administrators and police officers.

The way these different groups talk to one another about alcohol and alcohol policy is tragically broken. Make no mistake, this network of people interacts plenty. Students drink, are cited with drinking infractions, and those infractions are adjudicated by officials in accordance with policy set forth by administrators. The system is doing its job, but it’s woefully static. The Greyhound’s writing staff and I conducted a series of interviews with campus officials, and those conversations revealed that virtually everyone involved stands on common ground but lacks an effective way to communicate.

Top to bottom, Loyola’s administrative entities and associated departments are realistic about students’ drinking habits and encourage a responsible and moderate attitude toward drinking. Yet despite this reality, there is the perception among some students that the university is out of touch, or doesn’t understand the extent to which drinking is a part of the culture at Loyola.

I spoke with Cindy Parcover, assistant director of Loyola’s Alcohol and Drug Education and Support Services (ADESS). She said, “There aren’t a lot of abstainers. It’s about 10 percent and that’s been standard for as long as I’ve been at Loyola.” The data Parcover cited was obtained using a fully anonymous survey offered to all students that received thousands of responses. There’s no question about it, the university knows that we drink and has a plethora of data revealing exactly how much and how frequently. ADESS is quite unambiguous in its desire to reach out to students in acknowledgment of the realities of drinking. “We want to meet students where they’re at,” Parcover said.

But if the university understands the role alcohol has in students’ lives and wants to reach out to students, why is it that this vision isn’t clear to the student body? Some of this disconnect can be attributed to how the amount of alcohol use on our campus is underestimated during freshman orientation. Students are given a survey to take as they enter Loyola asking them about their habits concerning drinking and drug use and then the results of the survey are presented to the incoming class and their parents. Though the results vary year-to-year, my class’s survey (2016) reported that a little less than half of students drink. There’s nothing to suggest the data is wrong, but the trouble is that the survey is conducted before students are living in dormitories without any close supervision.

Colonel Timothy Fox, director of Public Safety, talked with me about how students’ newfound independence as freshmen can lead to underage drinking. He calls it the “free dog approach.” The basic idea is that as young people are set free from their “leashes” they start to make all kinds of decisions for themselves they could never make before – good and bad, constructive and destructive.

If the drinking survey were administered, say, a month after the start of the fall semester instead of during orientation, the results may be more indicative of the long-run because, as ADESS’ data indicates, once students are here almost all of them drink. It is quite possible that students feel as if the administration simply isn’t aware of drinking’s prevalence on campus after discovering the reality of things is so far removed from what the proudly touted orientation survey indicated would be true.

But it would be facile of me to assert that this is the only reason there’s a divide between students and administrators. Much of the gap can be ascribed to certain realities inherent to drinking underage. It is, after all, illegal to consume alcohol below the age of 21 and that means there will always be an element of enforcement to contend with. This means that there will always be a certain fearfulness among students who drink, and this fear can sometimes be toxic to open discussions about alcohol.

Specifically, the rational self-interested fear students have of getting fined and sanctioned becomes corrosive when it crosses into paranoia. In preparing for this article I asked several students if they would be willing to be interviewed so that I could present their perspectives on drinking at Loyola. They refused, citing a fear of being punished as their reason for not wanting their names to appear in this article. This is a concrete example of misperceptions making an open dialog harder to create; students are too fearful to speak out.

The sad part is that the idea that Campus Police and other officials somehow take pleasure in writing citations couldn’t be further from the truth. I asked Colonel Fox and Major Sean Kapfhammer, assistant director of Public Safety, about students’ sheepishness toward campus police. “Our number one mission is to make this as safe a university as we can be,” said Fox. “We could easily post at any of the residence halls and hunt people that are trying to bring beers back… you’d have hundreds of alcohol violations every week.” Major Kapfhammer added that their focus is “educational as opposed to punitive.” If the Department of Public Safety was actually concerned with busting people for the drinking and possession of alcohol it would have no trouble issuing thousands of citations each month, but so far this semester only 18 alcohol related incidents have been fielded by campus police.

The state of Maryland permits universities to handle underage drinking in ways that prioritize education and safety over punishment, and Loyola’s Public Safety Department indisputably takes this approach. I asked Colonel Fox how he would like campus police officers to be perceived by students. He replied that he wants his officers to convey a message of “come to me, I will help you.” This being the case, it’s a shame that students would be too afraid to even participate in a conversation about alcohol use.

Especially troubling about this miasma of warped perception and fear is that now is one of those times where we need to have a mature dialog about alcohol policy on campus. The Student Government Association recently proposed a policy change to Student Life called the Responsible Action Protocol (RAP) and the discussion and debate surrounding it has been remarkably illustrative of where the problems with our campus’ drinking dialog lie.

Essentially RAP would offer some kind of amnesty to students who do the responsible thing and call for medical help if another student is experiencing alcohol poisoning. In theory, this policy would formally eliminate the possibility of “getting in trouble” when doing the right thing, increasing the likelihood of students getting the help they need. Two full articles in this week’s issue are dedicated to RAP with one written by Lisa Potter in the news section and the other by Sean Creedon in this section. I won’t rehash the content of their articles here, but I strongly encourage you to read them.

My hope is that everyone, from the administrative level to the student body, can not only speak with each other more openly about RAP and issues like it but also frame those discussions in an honest acknowledgement of our common ground. Students need to understand that the administration knows where they’re at on drinking and wants to meet them there. Administrators need to realize that fear can make certain policy decisions appear to not be in good faith.

I wish there was an easy way to facilitate a more open dialog. Panel discussions, petitions and letters would all be steps in the right direction, but without an earnest and true internalization of why our current atmosphere poisons discussions of alcohol and alcohol policy, those steps would be purely superficial. We can’t allow ourselves to keep falling into the trap of polarized thinking; it’s an all-consuming black hole that destroys all hope of productivity.

Whether you’re a student with no plans to cut back on your drinking or an administrator with years of experience under your belt, my request of you is the same: be open. Listen and understand where others are coming from. Be cognizant of how you’re seen. Clarify your own positions. Do not be afraid to speak.

Loyola’s discussion of alcohol and alcohol policy has grown stagnant and confused. Let’s fix it.

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We need to rethink how we talk about alcohol