The Drinking War

  • By Chris Friend '14
  • cfriend14@amherst.edu

Volume XXXV Issue 4, May 10, 2013

Friend

Or How to Demolish an Entire Social Scene and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You’re Going to Have to Put Down that Beer, or “I Have Fought the Temperance Deans and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!”

Amherst College has excellent students and excellent faculty. We deserve ex- cellent administrators. Unfortunately, we regularly hire administrators who do not meet our standards. Specifically, I’m referring to administrators who affect student life—those in the Dean of Students Office, Athletics, Residen- tial Life, etc.—but most non-faculty members of the College that deal with students can be just as bad. Why is this?

There is an element of suffocating paternal- ism present among administrators—“we know better than you.” And this should come as no surprise: In most situations, the administration is holding all of the cards. This pops up occasionally. It’s Pamela Stawasz (Assistant Director of Residential Life) telling us that student storage has to be changed and that she’d love some AAS help in educating, not fighting, the administration on this issue. It’s Don Faulstick (an assistant football coach who works with club sports) making implicit threats to Ultimate frisbee about field space during a Club Sports meeting. It’s Biddy Martin walking into the office of The Amherst Student during the opening of Keefe and suggesting that it would be nice for the stories on the relationship between sexual assault and athletics to run their course. Or it’s Billy McBride (Assistant Athletics Director) telling the AAS that there are nuances that we just wouldn’t understand about why a club soccer team couldn’t get approved.

These are just a few of my experiences, and I’m sure that everyone has had a few like them at one point or another. These experiences are frustrating. There are two basic causes for this frustration: The people who make up our administration are (a) essentially ideologues and (b) wrong and easily proven wrong—arguing with them is infuriating. These qualities are awful in combination.

All right. I’m going to make a claim here that seems to go against the earlier parts of my article, but bear with me. Dean Fatemi is not the real problem. Dean Fatemi is certainly a dean of the status quo. She likes what has happened before, believes it has gone well, and is willing to work with anyone within her existing conception of student life. This is not inherently bad—Amherst is a pretty nice place to be, and I’d also want to be sure that any changes we were making to policy were positive. It’s much safer to stay where we are.

It’s mostly the same with Billy McBride. He just knows what we’ve done before and wants to keep doing it. It may be hard to get him to change, but he’s not actively working against the student body. 

The real problem here is administrators who either work against the student body or make efforts to do things that students do not want.

There are some easy examples: Residential Life neglects to solicit student input and pushing full steam ahead anyway. This is the kind of attitude that results in you spending (or almost spending, if the rumors that we have gotten out of our contract are true) about $400,000 ($2624/month x 10 months x 15 suites) on Alpine Commons when only four students (of a total ca- pacity of 60) sign up to use it. It is also apparently in the interest of Res Life to get rid of student storage on campus. But there is also a more dangerous, insidious case: Administrators like Susie Mitton Shannon (Interim Assistant Dean of Student Conduct) are not only willing to say remarkably unintelligent things in private meetings with students, but are willing to commit to them on paper.

The administration will happily deny that a “dry orientation” was ever going to take place. This is technically true, I guess—they were not going to call it a “dry orientation.” The set of plans, however, was going to be that all “student workers” (originally loosely defined as everyone whom the College was giving housing to before the official move-in date) would have to refrain from drinking. Not only that— the original contract plan banned student leaders from even being in a place where drinking was taking place!

This much is clear: Susie Mitton Shannon does not get it.

From The Amherst Student article: “We really just want the Orientation Leaders to be responsible around the freshmen on campus. Refrain from alcohol use so that a freshman can go to the socials knowing that their Orientation leader will be there not under the influence of alcohol.”

The paternalism is suffocating.

I should note that I here make one uncontroversial assumption: Freshmen are going to drink regardless of any (plausible) policy enacted by the College. Mitton Shannon isn’t interested in Orientation Leaders (OLs) being “responsible” around freshmen, of course. That’s not the policy—it’s a stigmatization policy that essentially says, “We do not trust OLs to drink responsibly, so we will not permit them to drink at all.”

This is incredibly important and should not go understated. This policy, and Susie Mitton Shannon’s justification thereof, strongly implies that the only kind of responsible drinking is none at all. Since we cannot trust OLs to be responsible, we want to hold them to a standard of not drinking. This is ridiculous—these are the people we’ve chosen to introduce Amherst to incoming freshmen. If we cannot trust them, then it follows that there is no one on this cam- pus that we can trust with drinking. It is the first step in a policy toward a dry orientation. The fact that such a policy was even considered is upsetting and absurd.

And yet, I feel like I don’t even need to go into these arguments—we’ve already hashed them out so much. And that is why this is so frustrating: I feel like this is no longer a battle that should have to be fought.