Opinion

Social space changes limit student options

By Mark Parker-Magyar '15

September 19, 2013

Hamilton has an undeniable issue with how its students consume alcohol, and the fear of what happens if a student is not resuscitated in time has been driving recent shifts in the College's alcohol policy. But those leaders’ decision to make Sadove Basement a substance free location on Thursdays and Saturdays is not a step in the right direction.

The reasoning behind this decision was the feeling that there aren’t enough substance free options on campus on social nights, leading to a weak substance-free environment.  And yet, consider the avenues substance-free students had to organize parties last year:

• A permanent substance-free Social Space in the Barn, hosting school planned events on Friday  and available any other day of the week.

• A period of a week before the Social Space lottery, where any organization can book any Social Space, on any night, as long as it’s non-alcoholic. Hypothetically, substance-free groups could have booked Thursday Friday and Saturday in Sadove Basement, or any Social Space for that matter, every single weekend last year. But they did not.

• And finally, substance-free groups can attend the Social Space lottery along with every other Hamilton organization.

Substance-free students had and have more avenues for booking Social Spaces for parties or events than any organization that serves alcohol, but those parties and events did not materialize. The issue is not the availability of spaces for substance free events; it’s the demand for them.  Even the Hamilton funded Late Nite events are not that well attended. Leaders of Campus Activities Board and Student Assembly agreed on this when the Sadove Basement decision came up at the Student Assembly meeting on September 9. Instead of serving an underrepresented part of the community, the decision to take away Social Spaces that serve alcohol just makes drinking on campus more dangerous.

Between the Sadove Basement decision, and the decision last year to make the Hub unavailable on Thursdays, there are significantly fewer Social Spaces available for events that serve alcohol as compared to two years ago (a quarter decrease to be precise).  That decrease, combined with the ever increasing number of Hamilton community groups that go to the Social Space lottery (I’ve been to four lotteries, there are more groups each semester) means there are fewer and fewer Social Spaces available for groups that will drink, regardless of whether or not they have a Social Space.

In a year and a half, we have gone from five rounds of the lottery before the spaces run out, to three. Why is this an issue?

Because drinking in Social Spaces is less dangerous, the decrease in  Social Spaces for groups that serve alcohol leads to more parties with mixed drinks, an absence of sober event staff or social hosts at parties on social nights, an increase in the number of students who pre-game with hard alcohol before going out, and a smaller group of self-policing friends to spend time with on the weekends.

In short, it leads to the type of drinking that spurred the creation of Social Spaces in the first place.

Instead of reducing available social spaces, we should be expanding the number of social spaces to mee the demand of the 90% of Hamilton that drinks (according to the Planning Committee’s summer report). Ultimately, organizations should have a greater ability to throw parties that are both large enough to meet the Hamilton student’s demand, while still being safer than the alternative of more underground and unsupervised drinking.

I know it’s not easy to find spaces on campus that can operate as social spaces, and at some point Hamilton might need to consider construction on existing buildings to facilitate this process, but that just makes this conversion of Sadove  Basement all the more indicting.

The leaders of this school are not against social spaces. Student Body President Anthony Jackson ’15 and a community of adult and student leaders are currently looking at options for creating at least one other social space. he fact that we have social spaces at all is a privilege, and it is a good policy for managing drinking at Hamilton.

My argument is simply that Hamilton should commit further to good policy rather than keeping it steady or mitigating it, especially in favor of what will likely be a vacant space most social nights.

College students drink, underage or not, and Hamilton is no different. By increasing the number of Social Spaces so that the groups that  want to drink can drink safely and with supervision, school leaders will make Hamilton safer in the long run.

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