In a change to the undergraduate “Guide to Living,” students of legal drinking age may now consume alcohol in their rooms in Southfield and Living-Learning Community dorms, reflecting a shift in the University’s drinking policy.
The housing office policy now states that “a person 21 years of age or older, regardless of the age of his/her roommate or suitemate(s), may possess, store, or consume alcohol in corridor-style residence halls.” Alcohol consumption and possession was previously banned for all residents, regardless of age, in Southfield and LLC dorms, which predominantly house first-year students.
Cristen Kromm, assistant dean for community development and residential programs, and an LLC resident herself, said she thinks the policy on alcohol use “really hasn’t changed in terms of practice.” For residents of the affected dorms who are still below the legal age for consumption, “New York state really tells us what the policies are and what can and cannot happen,” she said.
But by lifting the absolute ban in those dorms, the University is moving toward a philosophy focused on alcohol harm reduction.
Consumption of alcohol by those under the age of 21 is still illegal under state law and University rules, and a Public Safety officer who sees a student possessing alcohol can ask to see identification. Still, officials recognize that many college students choose to drink regardless of age, and Columbia is modifying its language to emphasize smart drinking.
“We believe in educating students about the problems that could arise with the use and misuse of alcohol,” Kromm said.
Michael McNeil, director of Alice! Health Promotion, said that the move toward a policy shift began in 2011, when Columbia took part in a summit of Ivy League students discussing alcohol policy. McNeil said that the variety of student leaders involved wanted a shift on campus to emphasize Columbia’s medical amnesty and good samaritan policies.
Instead of alerting students to the punitive consequences of drinking, student leaders engaged in discussions with McNeil, who said that “in the event that somebody did overconsume, students felt that they had the information—the correct information—to reach out to many resources to help support their fellow Columbians.”
Kromm, McNeil, and student leaders studied the “true norm” of alcohol consumption on campus, finding that “the use of protective behaviors was far more common among students than maybe was perceived to be,” according to McNeil.
“The stories may tend to highlight an overconsumption ... but we know from the various assessments and pieces we’ve done that most of the CC/SEAS undergraduates do approach alcohol in a responsible manner,” McNeil said.
A Columbia Health Services study in 2011 found that “about 98 percent of undergraduate students use one or more of these protective behaviors,” such as eating before drinking or using a designated driver when not in New York City.
For administrators, the discussion of harm reduction gave them an opportunity to help students drink responsibly. During orientation week, a group of students selected by Kromm and McNeil facilitated discussion of responsible community action policies with first-years. McNeil stressed the fact that these discussions were student-led as being “critical to [the program’s] success.”
Ruchi Gupta, SEAS ’13, served as a Responsible Community Action facilitator this semester. “We didn’t tell people not to drink if they’re not 21,” Gupta, who is 21, said. “Our main thing was to tell people to be safe, smart, and responsible.”
Gupta said the policy might make her job as a resident adviser in the LLC harder.
“We don’t go around asking for people’s IDs or checking their birthdays and all,” she said. “Last year if we saw alcohol it was really easy—you were not allowed to have it in the dorms.”
Still, Gupta sees her RCA facilitator training as expanding her role as an RA.
“What was good was that my first-year students got to have this RCA experience and their facilitator was really open with them, told them about problems that they’ve had with alcohol, and how they’ve dealt with it,” she said. “So I think that now my residents feel a lot more comfortable coming to me.”