Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

University needs adult policies on alcohol

Samantha Webber/Collegian
There has been a slight change to the University of Massachusetts’ Drug and Alcohol Policies this new semester – one that has gone unnoticed by most, yet could have a significant impact on the student body. Starting this year, the University will notify parents after the first time a student is written up for alcohol.

In previous years, students would receive housing probation for one year and the $100 BASICS I class, with parental notification coming only after the second alcohol violation. The change in this year’s policy is intended as a stricter deterrent to underage drinking on campus. The new policy, in many ways, is contradictory to the aims of the University by invalidating students’ newfound sense of individuality and personal responsibility.

The new policy is actually not reflected on the current Drug and Alcohol Policies page on UMass’ website. A PDF version on the site is noted as being last updated in November 2010, and lists last year’s sanctions. New students were informed of the accurate policies by way of a print version of the pamphlet being left on their desks when they moved in.

There are certainly many incoming freshmen who are quite young and immature, but one of the aims of Residence Life is to empower these students to make the transition into responsible adulthood. One of the most important ways students make this transition is by living on their own, away from their parents. By threatening to call mom and dad at the first sign of trouble, the University is preventing students from feeling that sense of individuality, because the thought of punishment at home will always be hanging over their heads.

The policy is patronizing because it is, after all, the same policy as found in primary and secondary school. When a child misbehaves at school, he or she is sent to the principal, who calls home and informs the parents of the situation. The running joke is that Whitmore, as the home of the University administration, is like the “principal’s office” here on campus. Now, Whitmore seems to be taking that joke to heart – perhaps next, students will be setting up parent-teacher conferences at the Dean’s office.

The argument, of course, is that parental notification is a practical deterrent to underage drinking. While the policy may be disagreeable on a philosophical level, it is logical to think the new policy will prevent at least some students from drinking underage (or, at least, make them more careful of being caught).

As a Resident Assistant in a freshmen dorm, I would certainly stand to gain from fewer drunken 18-year-olds carousing in the hallways, and would therefore be a beneficiary of this new policy. Nevertheless, I oppose the policy change because of that sense of invalidation it gives students who are trying to truly be adults for the first time. How, as an RA, can I empower my residents to grow when the power their parents hold over them is still being held firmly in place by the University?

Then there is the simple matter that not all parents extend the same amount of discipline. There are students who are written up for alcohol two, three, or four times and don’t bat an eye when their parents are told. These parents may not care that their students are drinking, or may not care what their students are up to at all. In this case, parental notification is a lost cause as a deterrent to begin with.

On the other hand, there are far stricter parents out there who may end up punishing their students far beyond what the University expects. Imagine a parent cutting off a student’s tuition because of an alcohol violation. It may sound extreme, but the possibility exists. A student could potentially appeal the University to not call home if this were the case, but that creates a whole separate issue relating to treating students differently for the same policy violation. Parents, especially those who are footing their student’s bill, do deserve to be kept in the loop to some extent. They have a point of contact with the University, but it is through the Office of Parents Services, not Residence Life or the Dean’s Office. The University should be encouraging students to maturely inform their parents of their mistakes on their own, instead of going over the student’s head. This empowers the student to be responsible, as well as keep their independence.

When I worked as a counselor this summer at the New Students Orientation program, we were explicitly forbidden to refer to the students as boys and girls. It was ‘men,’ ‘women’ or ‘students.’ The idea was that this simple rhetorical change reinforced the idea amongst the incoming freshmen that they would be held to a higher standard here at UMass – the standard that, yes, they are adults now and should be treated as such. Now that these freshmen are at the University, this new alcohol policy distorts that message. Those who are truly adults don’t have to deal with their parents being called whenever they make a slight mistake; neither should a student at UMass Amherst.

The new policy entered the school quietly, but it will loudly impact the lives of students- in the form of ringing phones in the kitchens of students’ homes across Massachusetts and the US.

Billy Rainsford can be reached at [email protected]

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  • M

    MattSep 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    It’s illegal to drink if you’re under 21. Agree or disagree (and I do), it’s the law. Yes, people are going to do it, but that doesn’t change anything. One thing I’m tired of are people getting angry when getting in trouble for underage drinking. Again, it’s illegal!

  • W

    why umass?Sep 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    The alcohol policies here at UMass are such a joke. I literally got in less trouble in HIGHSCHOOL from alcohol. It seriously angers me so much knowing that the university i attend thinks to little of the student body. I agree with this editorial completely, these policies ARE patronizing and calling home to parents is extremely invasive. the university is jumping through hoops of fire to deter student drinking….but dont they understand, COLLEGE STUDENTS WILL NEVER STOP DRINKING. the only result theyre going to get from all of these out of wack, over the top policies is more students in jail, more students in the deans office, more students paying exorbitant fines …and now, more students being told on to mommy and daddy.

  • E

    Ed CuttingSep 22, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Two words: Maura Murry — she is the UMass Nursing student who literally vanished off the face of the earth — her car was found in upstate NH but never any sign of her.

    Ransford’s theory is one possibility, there was a minor incident involving alcohol a day or two before she vanished, she reportedly received a telephone call that disturbed her greatly, and perhaps her inability to face her parents led to misadventure.

    It used to happen all the time when gay students were outed — someone would send home a picture of the significant other and it will with this too. There are kids literally hiding from their parents — that is why I got the hardship notification put into the policy — and when we inevitably have some stepfather come to campus and murder some girl in her dorm room (as telling him that she violated the UM-A alcohol policy inherently tells him that she is AT UM-A, which he may not have known) then we will all have a collective handholding and feel bad but she still will be dead.

    The bigger problem, though, is that a lot of parents were students here in the ’70s during the ZooMass Days. When there was so much beer spilt from kegs that the mudbowl tradition started, when the Bluewall was a bar and a rocking one. When the drinking age was 18 and damn few people were ever sober.

    Rumor has it that the Dean of Students Office calls to tell on some kids and their parents’ response is “that is *all* he has done?!?!?’ “Do you know what *I* did on that campus — in that dormitory — at football games?!?!?” “And you are bothering him for *that*?!?!?”

    Junior then gets a call from home to the effect of “shame on you — you ought to have had a keg, not just a 12 pack…”

    And we won’t even get into how drugs are a far bigger problem than alcohol, had have been ever since the great prohibitionist movement started here at UMass — in 1989.

  • J

    JoeySep 22, 2011 at 8:56 am

    An adult policy on smoking would be nice too.

    Also, people should be allowed to smoke in bars.

    Marijuana should be legal as well. But it isn’t…yet.