Drawing of a person wearing a tricorn hat, smiling, and holding a tray of alcoholic drinksBy Chris Friend

Volume XXXV, Issue 2, March 8, 2013

Thursday, Februuary 21st, 2012. Remember this day—it represents a marked shift in how the College deals with alcohol on campus. Of course most of you have heard about the Good Old Days, when teenagers could drink and TAPs were TAPs because there was beer…on tap. After the law bumped the drinking age to 21 (thanks Obama), most of the College-supported drinking environment died. As external pressure increased, on-campus alcohol policy became much stricter. Some elements of alcohol policy continue to tighten, but Schwemm’s Pub Night  indicates that we may be undergoing a slow paradigm shift towards greater acceptance of alcohol on campus.

The most important word in that last sentence, however, is “slow.” Pub Night has also shown that our alcohol policy remains in some ways mired in severity. The first thing I noticed upon walking into Schwemm’s that night was the pair (yes, two people) of student security workers hanging around the entrance. In a notable step they were dressed in regular clothes, contributing to a more casual atmosphere, but their presence still suggested a kind of concern that can dampen merrymaking. On the inside, a third member of student security and a campus police officer, also in plainclothes, awaited me, ready to take my ID and hand out a wristband to indicate that yes, I was indeed 21 years old. After this, I approached the bar for a beer that was in a bottle but was then poured into a cup (fooling everyone!) and then went to sit down. Given the amount of hired student security it was little wonder that a bottle of Sam Adams cost $3.25.

The atmosphere was electric: groups of friends, anywhere from 3 to 13 people, sitting , drinking, talking, laughing. The only limiting factor on the number of people in the area seemed to be the lack of chairs. It was nice that so many people could get together and just have a drink. The best part was that Schwemm’s was still serving regular food.  The ability to have a beer with a fries-or-burger thing would make me go to Schwemm’s on the regular. It also turns the area into a more social setting: people can come for dinner and have a causal beer on a weeknight, rather than waiting until later to have a drink. Most important, however, everyone was just excited to be there. Even Biddy made an appearance at the beginning, seemingly pleased with how the event was working out. It felt like, for at least one night, Amherst College had a real campus bar. We were all Living The Dream.

Then we woke up. It was only for one night, and while it was a step in the right direction, Pub Night revealed how disinterested the College is in open and sociable drinking. The security seemed reminiscent of loud TAP parties where music blares and students arrive already having had a few drinks; it was out of place in a casual bar setting. Was there really any possibility of rowdiness? First, it’s worth mentioning that it would simply cost too much for most students to feel comfortable getting drunk on Schwemms’ beer. Perhaps they were being overly cautious, but any future night of drinking in Schwemm’s should have little—if any—security. It would not be too hard to give the card swipe machine to the employees at Schwemm’s. This system might also include legal identifiers of age, which would make the café a more open environment.

And more! Why not allow people to drink around the campus center? Who doesn’t want to play pool/video games/ping pong while drinking a beer? It would liven up the campus center, and make it an area where people can drink in a casual setting. There is always an irrational concern (as we also will see with the 21+ event at Casino night) that students will take a drink and bring it to someone who is not 21, encouraging (gasp!) underage drinking. Easily solved: each student can only buy one beer at a time, and there must be a waiting period between beer orders. Under this scenario, it would reduce (but not eliminate) the possibility of underage drinking and provide a great benefit to all those able to drink.

Schwemm’s must get a liquor license so this becomes a recurring event rather than a special occasion. It should be expected and ordinary for the campus eatery to serve beer and wine with meals. There are so many other possibilities, too! Though this may be implausible because of Massachusetts’ laws, Schwemm’s could serve whiskey because whiskey is something that must be sipped.

All together it feels like we have opened the door on normalizing alcohol relations between the administration and the students. It is a wonderful feeling. I can only hope that they take some of this advice (especially on security), but generally, the entire operation was a huge success. Let it not be the last.