Alice Berndt ‘22
On September 10, the Student Government Association (SGA) announced a change in the college’s alcohol write-up (or “documentation”) policy: students no longer have to pay a fee for underage drinking. Many students welcomed this change, not solely because of personal financial gains, but because they believe this new alcohol policy is more fair and equitable for all.
Under the former guidelines, students who violated the policy were required to meet with Student Life Staff (someone from the Dean of Students staff or Residence Life staff) and pay a fine, which increased from $50 to $100 to $200 based on whether it was their first, second, or third offense.
Under the updated policy, students will still be required to meet with Student Life Staff, but rather than pay a fine they will complete a certain number of community service hours, which again increase based on whether it is their first or second offense. Students will be required to complete their hours within one month of the date of their meeting to accommodate their schedules.
SGA originally pushed to eliminate the fines. SGA President Emmitt Sklar ‘21 explained that the student government wished to make fines more equitable to individuals regardless of socioeconomic background: “For some people, [a fine] might be easy because their parents can pay for that fine, thus there’s no real disincentive. And then for some folks who are making sure they have enough money for meals and textbooks each month, that’s a really hard thing to deal with on top of that.”
Associate Dean of Students Sarah Buchanan agreed with this sentiment. Buchanan said, “the reason we made [this decision] was rooted in our awareness that [the fines had] disproportionate impacts on students. It was an equity issue. We also don’t think it promoted learning, and this is a learning process, so if doesn’t promote learning, get it out.”
One anonymous student, who was written-up when the former policy was still in place, felt that the fine was “a financial barrier.” Lexi Wombwell ‘20 expressed a similar sentiment, saying that her second alcohol infraction was “frustrating, because it was a lot of money.”
Wombwell thinks the new policy is better for all students. She said, “Community service is awesome, and I’m really glad that it means it’s more accessible to everyone, because I know $50 meant something very different to me than to someone else.”
“To change it from something that’s meaningless to some people to something that’s a meaningful punishment to everyone makes sense,” commented Matthew Rose ‘20.
“The intent of the fines was to build accountability,” Buchanan said, “so they were replaced with community service hours, and we assign community service hours as directly related to the behavior as we can. If a student’s behavior while they were consuming alcohol prompted them to make a mess in a residence hall, we might assign them something through Physical Plant with some cleaning.” She added, “We are open to students providing rationale for why they think a community service opportunity other than through facilities might be appropriate.”
Sklar explained, “The idea is that it’s supposed to be restorative, so you’re somehow working with the community that you supposedly harmed by violating the policy.”
The same anonymous student recently completed their community service hours cleaning up leaves with Physical Plant due to a first-offense write-up, and reflected on their experience: “I actually enjoyed being able to work with Physical Plant, because that’s a part of campus that I walk past every day and don’t actually get to see inside or get to meet the people who spend most of their time there.”
In considering the idea of giving back to the community, the student added, “I think that is something that does exist long after those few hours that you spend there. Doing service and meeting these people can really encourage connections. There’s only so much you can do in three hours, but I would say I made a pretty good dent in the leaves that were all over the parking lot.”
With regards to whether or not the new policy will alter the way students view potential consequences, Ella Nagy-Benson ‘22 said, “I don’t think anyone is changing their behavior based on it. People still know the consequences of being written up, and they know that it’s not something to be taken lightly.”
In terms of what’s next for the alcohol policy and the drinking culture at Davidson, Sklar explained, “Our priority right now is expanding the conversation into something more general about how do we create a healthy and safe culture here at Davidson? It’s a broader discussion about alcohol, but that’s the next step as we move forward.”
Buchanan expressed optimism that progress that will continue to be made, remarking: “I really want us to have a community that makes healthy decisions about how [people] can be responsible community members and thrive and be well. That’s not directly related to these policy changes, but when I think about our whole process, that’s what I want.”