Any freshman who arrived at Vassar last month expecting wild parties may find their fantasies dashed by new restrictions enacted this semester by the college administration. The number of attendees is now limited to 25, hard liquor is banned and members of Campus Patrol—rather than Safety and Security officers, as was the prior case—are required to monitor gatherings. The existing rules, which include a campus-wide ban on beer kegs and the mandatory registration of all parties, will remain in effect.
When asked about the changes, Vassar Interim President Jonathan Chenette explained that the 25-person limit is simply an effort to adhere to state fire codes that had previously been ignored or forgotten. Vassar Student Association (VSA) President Calvin Lamothe ’17 added that hard liquor was banned in an attempt to avoid dangerous amounts of alcohol consumption. “It is harder for hosts to control how much liquor their guests are drinking [compared to] beer or wine, and it’s easier to get drunk quickly, which can lead to dangerous situations,” Lamothe wrote in an emailed statement.
Though the intent of the regulations is increased student safety, some worry that the new rules may prove unrealistic. While the VSA has not taken an official stance on the matter, Lamothe commented, “I’m not sure that any amount of regulation will change the amount of partying on campus, and I am concerned that the situations these new rules are trying to prevent will manifest in less controlled settings.” He added, “I don’t think placing an outright ban on hard liquor is going to curtail problems surrounding alcohol, since there are many other settings in which people can consume [it].”
It’s true; if students can obtain alcohol for parties, either because they’re over 21 or their fake I.D.s claim they are, there’s nothing to stop them from downing several shots before going to a party where beer and wine are being served. Pre-gaming, as this practice is known, can in fact be more dangerous than drinking at parties, according to a study entitled “Drinking Before Going to Licensed Premises: An Event-Level Analysis of Predrinking, Alcohol Consumption, and Adverse Outcomes” that was published in the scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in February 2013.
The danger stems from the consumption of a high concentration of alcohol in a short period of time, rather than over the course of several hours.
A sophomore who wished to remain anonymous expressed concern that the potential increase in pre-gaming will lead to a rise in the number of students requiring alcohol-related treatment from Vassar’s Emergency Medical Services. According to Chenette, “Our [number] of medical transports is very out of proportion to the size of our student body,” which may have been part of the rationale for creating the new restrictions.
Noyes House President Takunda Maisva ’19 echoed these apprehensions about unsafe alcohol consumption and added that he worries the ban on hard liquor could lead to an increase in drug use on campus. He stated, “I don’t think that them banning [hard liquor] is going to do anything, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference. And also, the party limitations, the number of people [allowed to be present], that’s not going to change. I don’t think that they’re going to be able to enforce [the rules] very well.” Chenette acknowledged, “I know that [the rules] will change the party culture in some way,” but that he hopes these changes will move partying in a “healthier direction.”
In addition to students’ concerns about possible negative consequences, there has been a serious lack of communication about the new rules, both between the administration and students and within the administration itself. Chenette said he had been unaware of the ban on hard liquor and had found out about the limit on party attendees only a few weeks before, when the VSA brought it to his attention. Furthermore, in a casual poll of 152 mostly first-year Vassar students conducted on Facebook, only 37.5 percent said they knew about the new regulations.
One freshman, who also requested anonymity, received a conduct write-up for attending an unregistered party in early September, despite the fact that she wasn’t drinking there. While she had heard about the new rules from friends, she said, “I didn’t hear that from the administration.”
In fact, much, if not all, of the communication about the new regulations seems to have been through word-of-mouth. Maisva ’19, for example, said that he learned of them from Noyes House Advisor Christina Winnett and that it was mentioned at a Board of Residential Affairs meeting. However, “[T]he house teams didn’t get any [official] information about party regulations changing,” he added.
Despite these miscommunications, the administration is increasing its efforts to get students more involved in these types of decisions. Chenette said that he has spoken with the Dean of the College Christopher Roellke about creating an alcohol task force to examine school policies on this subject. “I fully expect there will be student representation in that group,” he said.
Lamothe, for one, would welcome this change. “Far more often than I or the VSA would like, major policy changes that affect students directly are made without any student consultation,” he said. “Perhaps with a seat at the table, we would be able to enact more productive policies or at least understand the changes better and be able to communicate that reasoning to our constituents.” The VSA Executive Board will be meeting with Vassar Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo on Oct. 6 to discuss the regulations.