Loose Cannon: Drinking ban is trouble brewing

Thursday, August 19, 2010

  • A temporary alcohol ban in residence has the potential to backfire in many ways.

    A temporary alcohol ban in residence has the potential to backfire in many ways.

Written by Greg Beneteau

When I first heard that the University of Guelph was planning to prohibit drinking in campus residences during Orientation Week, I will admit to feeling a bit torn.

I served as a First Responder for two years during my undergraduate at U of G. Based on my experiences, many new students see O-Week as a chance to test their newfound freedoms. They stay out late, crank up the music in their rooms and eat Kraft Dinner at three o’clock in the morning.

They also drink alcohol, in varying amounts and with varying outcomes. The call for an HBD – that’s “has been drinking” in responder speak – can range from an entirely lucid person with their head in the toilet, to someone non-responsive and in need of immediate medical attention. 

It is time-consuming, annoying and occasionally dangerous to deal with new students who don’t know (or who choose not to respect) their limits when drinking. For these reasons, keeping new students away from alcohol during Orientation Week might seem like a good idea.

But I think that a temporary alcohol ban in residence has the potential to backfire in many ways.

To their credit, Student Housing Services is making sure the no-drinking rule emphasizes education rather than punishment. Still, it has the effect of turning O-Week supervisors into prohibition enforcement officers, which can change how they are perceived by students living in residence.

For example, Residence Life Staff play a big role in identifying students who are under the influence of alcohol and ensuring they get appropriate care, whether that means getting them a glass of water or seeking medical attention. 

If students really want to drink and suspect that RLS will spoil their fun, they will be compelled to hide their activity from view or leave campus. Having someone throw up on the carpet of a dorm room and pass out is unpleasant, but it’s safer than having it happen in a public park, on a rooftop, in a back alley – in short, any place where help can’t find you.

New students may also be less likely to report a roommate’s drinking, for fear of being seen as a snitch.

Speaking of snitches, I also understand the rational that students, of whom an estimated 70 per cent are underage, should be able to enjoy O-Week without being pressured by their peers to drink.

However, I draw a distinction between encouraging students to make wise choices and making those choices for them. According to Student Housing Services Manager Irene Thompson, Orientation Volunteers will discourage new students from going downtown to drink, while move-in volunteers will ask parents to take home any alcohol their son or daughter (or perhaps the parents themselves) have brought along for unloading.

This heavy-handed action sends a message that the University of Guelph sees students as incapable of making decisions about their behaviour and facing the consequences. At a time when newcomers to campus should be learning to live on their own, the institution is planning to mother them.

Even if the University can keep students away from booze during Orientation, new students will simply crack out the beer and whisky the following week, at which point there will be many more students in residence and fewer people to monitor them.

I much prefer Guelph Police’s approach to curbing drunkenness. In response to complaints about crowds that flood the downtown in the fall, officers are adopting a zero-tolerance approach to public intoxication and related behaviours during the first weeks of September.

Unruly revelers and underage drinkers can quickly rack up several hundred dollars’ worth of tickets if they don't behave themselves.

Unlike the University's selective targeting of new students in residence, these rules apply to everyone.  

The message is: if you abuse your right to drink, you’ll face the consequences. Lesson learned.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: on Aug 26, 2010 @ 4:37pm

    Completely agree with all these points. This is also completely unfair for students who are of age and wish to drink in their residences.

  2. Posted by: Charlotte on Aug 27, 2010 @ 1:18pm

    The University knows that a drinking ban will not stop students from drinking during orientation, but they do like the idea of making money off students for doing it (or anything else.. if they could charge us for breathing on campus, they would).

    This is a blatant cash grab and nothing more.

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