Effective policies begin with recognizing reality, and a reality of life on college campuses is that students drink, usually in large groups and often to excess. This is as true today as it was in 1898, when Princeton University tried to ban alcohol for a few, unsuccessful years. Wheaton’s current policy is only a little bit more realistic than Princeton’s experiment. A policy of breaking up parties, enforcing strict capacity limits, and having relatively severe sanctions for houses that host parties will only succeed at making students angry and administrators frustrated.
Instead of trying to change behavior that hasn’t changed for a century, Wheaton should focus on reducing harm and keeping students safe. In an ideal world, students would feel comfortable calling Public Safety for help when people are in danger, or when things have gotten out of hand. They would feel comfortable because Public Safety would be there to keep them safe, and there wouldn’t be any negative consequences down the road. Students would feel empowered to reach out for help, and Public Safety’s behavior would make them feel like they made the right choice.
This is what administrators feel like they’re doing right now. We aren’t a dry campus, and we don’t expel students for drinking underage. But what administrators expect and what students want are fundamentally different, and until that changes, there will be unhappiness and discontent. Wheaton has one of the worst retention rates of the institutions we compare ourselves to. Alcohol policy isn’t the only reason for that, but it is a reason. Wheaton doesn’t need to become Arizona State, but there’s a reason people here don’t attend the Wheaton in Illinois.
Now I don’t expect Wheaton to become this Dionysian utopia, but, for the administrators present, here are some more modest suggestions that could be a start to more sensible policies: let students register parties 48 hours before they happen, not weeks before; have specific, enumerated reasons why Public Safety would enter a house or dorm room and disperse the people there; loosen capacity limits for housing; and severely loosen the extent to which the college disciplinary process applies to off-campus housing.
That would be a good start, and I hope at least a few of those changes happen.