Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Inconsistent alcohol policy leads to student confusion, discipline

Around 6 p.m. the afternoon of Friday’s Walk In Lay Down event, a small group of students were sitting in a freshman’s JKL room, with sealed bottles of alcohol visible and the door open, when they say a residential college director entered the suite. The RCD, who was from another residential college, insisted that they were playing drinking games before writing up all of the students present.

According to one of the students at the party, who wished to remain anonymous, the RCD made them pour all of the alcohol in the suite into the sink. She said the RCD was only in their dorm because of a louder party on the top floor—which was allegedly broken up without any of the students getting written up.

Their door was open because of the residential advisor-enforced open-door rule, in which even underage students are expected to keep their doors open while drinking so residential advisors can make sure they are safe. But that rule didn’t hold when the RCD walked in.

“We could have had the door closed and been drinking quietly and we wouldn’t have gotten in trouble, but we didn’t,” the student said. “[You’re] f—ed if you do and f—ed if you don’t. If you follow the RA’s rules, you’ll get in trouble with the RCD, but if you follow the RCD’s rules, the RAs will be upset.”

Washington University’s unofficial alcohol policy is designed to prevent underage drinking only when it is repeated, dangerous, disruptive or flagrant—known to upperclassmen as ReDD Flag, though that terminology has been discontinued. But Missouri law mandates the school’s official policy—students cannot drink until they are 21.

The discord between official and unofficial alcohol policy leads to misunderstandings and student assumptions with ramifications beyond temporary inebriation.

On the third night of orientation, about 40-50 students allegedly flooded a freshman suite in Park House when an RA from another floor came in to ask them to turn down their music. A few minutes later, multiple RAs from other floors came in, kicked out all of the guests, had the residents of the suite pour out their alcohol and wrote down their names.

According to one of the students, the Park/Mudd RCD later told them that first-year students are not allowed to consume alcohol, and if they are caught, then their parents are called. A week after the incident, she found the students, took down their parents’ numbers and said she would call them.

The same student believes the write-up was the only thing that kept him from getting accepted to the Emergency Support Team.

“Apparently, they have a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol write-ups. I didn’t get in because I got in trouble on the third night I was here,” he said.

Though many of the students were upset about the treatment they received from the RCD, they noted that their own RAs were very nice about the incident and even apologized. But at that point, there was nothing they could do.

Alcohol policy is primarily enforced by RAs whose first priority is to keep students on their floors safe. But the “open-door policy” they use to accomplish this is not an official policy of the University and thus other University staff may not follow it, Justin Carroll, associate vice chancellor for students, said.

“We don’t expect the RAs to be policemen when it comes to students’ use of alcohol. The history of RAs within the community is one seen as a resource,” Carroll said.

The transition from substance-free floors to sub-free individual suites has done little to dispel student confusion over University policy, which can vary between different housing options and even within particular residential halls. Fraternity houses, for example, are governed by their own alcohol policy.

“The reality is that we know from experience, even though the law says that you need to be 21 to drink, college students do drink,” said Carroll. “We’re trying not to isolate the people who want a substance-free experience…There are students that hold themselves to a higher standard, and we want to be supportive of that.”

Freshman Natalie Gehred said she appreciates the University’s alcohol policy even though she finds it confusing.

“It’s interesting that we have sub-free dorms because technically we should all be sub-free under Missouri state law until we’re 21, but I like the fact that Wash. U. recognizes that it happens…and they allow us to make our own responsible decisions about it,” she said.

In some cases, the question might be more whether students care to follow University policy than whether they know it exists. At least during and before W.I.L.D., some students regarded the policy as more flexible than usual, and most of them were not written up.

One student in a Social Programming Board shirt posted a video of himself emptying a champagne bottle into his Lucky Charms in the “Overheard at WashU” Facebook group. A freshman who wished to remain anonymous claimed to have buried a bottle of Smirnoff vodka in Brookings Quadrangle last week, to exhume during the W.I.L.D. festivities. And at least one group of freshmen allegedly served “jungle juice” out of a borrowed Wydown Water dispenser at a suite party before the start of W.I.L.D.

“W.I.L.D. has changed—it went from an event where a large amount of alcohol could be brought in to the third-party vendor solution, which I think of all of the solutions seems to be the best one to have in place. But it results in pre-partying,” Don Strom, director of campus police, said. “Each W.I.L.D. is different. Some W.I.L.D.s we have where seemingly few more people are being treated than a normal Friday or Saturday night, and we’ve had other W.I.L.D.s where seemingly a lot of people are being treated.”

Concern over alcohol safety extends even to the highest levels of the University’s administration.

“I’m concerned about alcohol abuse, maybe more than any kind of worry that I have—like what keeps you up at night. I’m actually a very good sleeper, but I sleep right next to the telephone. I dread that phone ringing in the night because it’s almost never going to be good news,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton said. “It troubles me when EST responds and when people are taken to the hospital. No person wants a student to lose their life because they’ve made a misjudgment about how much alcohol they’ve consumed.”

Risa Zwerling, his wife, said the couple received five calls about hospitalized students after Friday night’s W.I.L.D. She noted that the number was more than usual.

Strom was unable to give an exact count of alcohol-related incidents this year, but he noted that alcohol use tends to accompany most of the incidents that they deal with.

Strom noted that the police have found in most cases of sexual assault on campus that either the suspect or the survivor was intoxicated during the episode. In general, when people engage in behavior that is brought to their attention, hard alcohol tends to be a common factor.

“You’ve been selected to come to Washington University because you’ve demonstrated some level of responsibility in your life, so we’re going to treat you as a responsible individual. We’re not going to go around searching people’s rooms to see if you have alcohol. On the other hand, if you bring yourself to our attention, we’re going to respond to that,” Strom said.

While many students have voiced confusion over the University’s enforcement of its alcohol policies, others say they appreciate the general freedom they are given.

“What college allows for public drinking on an academic campus like with W.I.L.D.?” freshman August Passov said.

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  • wu2015 says:

    Yeah, everyone really needs to keep that last comment in mind. In most of society, choosing NOT to break the law IS holding yourself to a higher standard than choosing TO break to law. And as many people probably forget on this campus, majority of students are underage and are therefore breaking the law by drinking. So yes, people who don’t drink before they turn 21 are holding themselves to a higher standard by most of our societal standards. If you all feel this entitled right now, the real world is gonna be a really big shock when you graduate.

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  • Ok says:

    Ugh, I forced myself to keep reading this article despite the introduction that struck me as another clearly one-sided and sorry attempt to demonize WashU administration.

    You want to know what the alcohol policy is? Freshmen and sophomores (ahem, including the freshmen author of this article), listen up. You are not 21. When you turn 21, you are legally allowed to possess and consume alcohol in the state of the Missouri. Until that age, if you choose to drink, you are technically breaking the law and subject to whatever consequences come your way. That’s important to clarify because some think that possessing a university ID is tantamount to being of legal age.

    WashU is operated by neither demons nor morons. Administration understands that under-aged students will undeniably choose to overstep the law and consume or possess alcohol. Attempting to fight this battle is hopelessly (and statistically) infeasible. The administration then sees to protect what it views as a winnable fight – something for which alcohol laws were originally intended – the safety of its students. This is the gray area between deciding what could and couldn’t potentially be unsafe. On a day like WILD where the kind of situations described at the beginning of this article are everywhere, it is difficult to gather all of the details to make an appropriate decision of what could potentially be unsafe. In this example, those bottles may have been sealed at the moment, but who is to say they wouldn’t fuel someone’s alcohol poisoning later that day? You may think that’s hyperbole, but the server at a restaurant on Forsyth Blvd interested in the odd amount of ambulance traffic last Friday would disagree.

    Before you begin citing an instance in which an RCD’s handling of a situation involving alcohol rubbed your buddy the wrong way, understand that no one on the administration is out to get you. You think your RAs enjoy writing you up? You think your RCDs get a kick out of punishing you? You think Chancellor Wrighton dreads getting medical emergency phone calls because he is worried about saving his own skin? I think you need to reverse your thinking and ultimately grow up. Alcohol is great when used properly. Alcohol isn’t great when its consumption is used as a tool for leverage against those who care about our safety.

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  • AEKDB says:

    I am seriously concerned about the changes I’ve seen in Washington University’s policies and enforcement over the last 6 years (my time of involvement with the university).
    In the beginning, I was IMPRESSED by how WU policies focused on actually protecting their customers- the students. Then year by year, the focus has shifted from protecting students, to the university solely protecting itself at the expense of the students.
    The shift in policy and enforcement is pushing students to engage in, and take measures to hide, riskier behavior.
    So now, when accidents or emergencies inevitably occur, students know the administration is not on their side, so go to great lengths to hide the incidents, or simply flee when something goes wrong.
    This puts the health and safety of students in jeopardy, and as this article mentions, can hurt the future prospects of students caught up in the inconsistent unpredictable enforcement of unclear policies.

    If I were applying to university today, and knowing what I now do about Washington University, I wouldn’t even consider giving them even the $50 to apply for admission, much less pay them $50k+/year to treat me like a criminal.

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  • limeonaire says:

    “There are students that hold themselves to a higher standard, and we want to be supportive of that.” —Dean Carroll

    Don’t worry, WU ’14—the administration doesn’t mean it. It’s been anything but supportive of a substance-free lifestyle for as long as I can remember. It’s like the administrators hope there are substance-free college students out there, perhaps largely for their own selfish reasons (they don’t like getting calls from the hospital at midnight, etc.), but they have no idea how to actually connect with them or provide a safe space for them. (See also: cutting substance-free floors in favor of randomly placed substance-free rooms.)

    Unlike you, I think a higher level of self-control can be admirable. Maintaining that sort of control is adhering to a “higher standard,” regardless of whether it’s one you like, and that’s not just idle moralizing—I’m far from a prohibitionist myself, but if people deliberately choose to practice that kind of self-control, more power to them. I drink now, but I remember being that person living in a freshman dorm, feeling totally disconnected from everyone in my building because they liked to “party,” I didn’t, and my floor always had the sour smell of spilled alcohol and vomit. I spent as much time as I could with friends who lived in substance-free housing.

    But given its actions in the past 10-plus years, I think the administration probably shares your disdain for people who wish to live a substance-free lifestyle on campus. You’re actually totally on the same page, but for different reasons. It’s sad that you people continually fail to appreciate and nurture the diversity of opinions and lifestyles in your midst.

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    • bn says:

      lol, not doing something because you don’t like it does not require self-control.

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    • Brian says:

      Well, it’s obvious that they could never figure out how to assign students to substance-free floors (maybe look at the specific question they asked to that effect? Nah, too hard). But this is the first time I’m (as an alum) hearing they dumped the program entirely, and it strikes me (like most things ResLife does) as completely missing the point. I would have loved to get placed in a sub-free floor (like I requested…) so I could have gotten together with people who liked doing things on weekends other than drinking. Oh well, guess you can’t expect much from ResLife…

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    • Phat Phingers says:

      I’m just writing this to say that I misclicked, and one of your thumbs up should actually be a thumbs down. And as bn noted, you weren’t restraining yourself, you just weren’t doing something you disliked doing. Self-control involves forcing yourself not to take actions you actually want to take but believe to be wrong, which I’m pretty sure describes close to 0% of people who choose to go sub-free.

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      • limeonaire says:

        bn and Phat Phingers, you guys are misreading what I said. I wasn’t claiming that I was restraining myself by not drinking as a freshman. I said two separate things: 1. I find it admirable when people do choose to maintain that sort of self-control, and 2. I was miserable when I lived among residents of the South 40 who chose to exercise no self-control. As I later learned, I like drinking just fine; what I don’t like is the disgusting atmosphere that so often surrounds it at Wash. U.

        Anyway, those were some pretty long sentences, so I understand if you had trouble parsing them.

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        • Phat Phingers says:

          Specifically, you said a) you believe people who choose not to drink are holding themselves to a higher standard and exercising self-control and b) you chose not to drink freshman year. Now, if we combine those two – as you seem to have failed to realize is the logical next step – we come to the conclusion that you believe that you were then restraining yourself and holding yourself to a higher standard (than were your peers).

          To aid you in reading comprehension, consider the following:

          1. Running makes everyone tired.

          2. Billy runs.

          Now, we haven’t been told that Billy gets tired when he runs – or that Billy gets tired at all – but we HAVE been told that Billy does something that makes people tired. By connecting the two, we can arrive at the following conclusion:

          3. Running makes Billy tired (alternatively, Billy is sometimes tired, Billy gets tired when he runs, etc.).

          See how that works? By applying this simple principle to day-to-day life, you’ll be able to figure out all kinds of things that haven’t been explicitly explained to you :)

          Regardless, however, your entire attitude is offensive. As has been noted, no one is holding himself to any kind of standard by not doing something he has no desire to do. That’s just called diversity of interest, and you might as well say that I’m holding myself to a higher standard because I choose not to go spelunking.

          Additionally, people who want to drink, but choose to restrain themselves in that regard, aren’t holding themselves to a “higher” standard, but a different one. The idea that the consumption of alcohol is some kind of moral stain is antiquated at best, and also fairly judgemental and close-minded (and I can only imagine what kind of tormented, guilty misery you find yourself experiencing as a self-professed practitoner of this sin).

          This was a pretty annoying, condescending post, wasn’t it? I can only imagine that it only evoked negative feelings in you, rather than contributing positively to discussion, despite the legitimate points contained within. Your previous post had similar issues, and you might benefit from asking yourself the following: Would I say this to someone’s face?

          Take care, buddy.

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          • limeonaire says:

            You can come to whatever conclusion you like; that doesn’t make it the correct one. Not everything can be reduced to a simple syllogism. (Though hey, thanks for the refresher course!) You keep trying to hammer in this point about how I supposedly think I’m morally superior to people because I didn’t drink freshman year, or that I somehow thought I was “restraining” myself in not drinking then. That’s not what this is about. You should probably stop trying to pin opinions on me; it’s really just making you look bad.

            Another word for “figuring out all kinds of things that haven’t been explicitly explained to you” is “assuming,” and you know the old saw about that…

            I have no moral or religious qualms about drinking. What offends me is being forced to live in filth, among people who think my opinions and desired lifestyle merit no consideration. What offends me is when the administration of my alma mater pays lip service to a lifestyle that it’s actively worked to marginalize.

            Whether a substance-free lifestyle is a “higher” standard or a “different” standard or whatever is irrelevant. You’re missing the forest for the trees. It’s amazing how het up people get when you say you don’t (or even that once upon a time, more than a decade ago, you didn’t) want to drink. Talk about being judgmental!

            Anyway, let’s be clear: I’m superior to you because you lack finesse, not because I didn’t drink freshman year. Enjoy being offended!

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          • Phat Phingers says:

            >Whether a substance-free lifestyle is a “higher” standard or a “different” standard or whatever is irrelevant.

            I mean, given that standards and restraint are what this thread has been about, I’d say that’s a pretty silly statement. So much for reading comprehension. WashU was a fairly middling school when you went here, so I guess it’s understandable.

            > It’s amazing how het up people get when you say you don’t (or even that once upon a time, more than a decade ago, you didn’t) want to drink. Talk about being judgmental!

            I’m not sure what “het” means, but no one in this thread has been judging you for not drinking, we’ve been judging you for being a condescending toolbag. And if the student body of God-knows-how-long-ago judged you for not drinking, the student body of today wouldn’t (but we’ll still judge you for being a condescending toolbag). Things – though not you, apparently – change over time.

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          • limeonaire says:

            Nah, it was actually higher in the rankings back then. Nice try, though. Also, we still knew how to use the dictionary!

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    • KC says:

      OK, wait a minute. Clueless alum here. Are you telling me that they eliminated sub-free floors and dorms? I remember, how entire buildings (Beaumont, I believe it was) and several floors in other dorms were completely sub free. In other words, do those who apply for sub-free housing basically have to live on little island (suite) in the middle of a non-sub-free ocean?

      I did NOT live in a sub free dorm. But if I had wanted to, I can’t imagine what a pain it would be to be surrounded by drinking and the smells and sounds that go with it. This new policy doesn’t make sense to me at all.

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  • Chen says:

    #firstworldproblems

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  • C2H5OH says:

    As an international student I really don’t understand the paranoia over alcohol use in America.

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  • WU '14 says:

    “There are students that hold themselves to a higher standard, and we want to be supportive of that.” – Dean Carroll

    Really? Are you #*$!ing kidding me???????? Take your arrogant moralizing and shove it. People who decide not to drink aren’t holding themselves to a higher standard. This attitude in an administrator is disgusting, and you should be sacked.

    “‘We could have had the door closed and been drinking quietly and we wouldn’t have gotten in trouble, but we didn’t,’ the student said. ‘[You’re] f—ed if you do and f—ed if you don’t. If you follow the RA’s rules, you’ll get in trouble with the RCD, but if you follow the RCD’s rules, the RAs will be upset.’”

    College lesson number one: don’t be so naive. If you don’t follow the RA’s rules, the RA won’t find out (unless someone there didn’t have the tattletale exorcised from them in elementary school, but then you’re better off for learning that early on).

    College lesson number two: if some authority figure shows up during illicit activities and starts demanding names, if escape is an option, book it.*

    *This obviously doesn’t apply in most situations when a police officer is attempting to arrest you, as attempting to evade arrest is itself a crime. Of course, as in all things, different factors – for example, the consequences of being arrested vs. the likelihood of successfully eluding capture – need to be weighed and taken into account.

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