By Andrew Bluebond
When Claremont McKenna College resident assistants emailed their residents to inform them that “things have to change” with regard to the school’s alcohol culture, students responded by defending the status quo – hoping to preserve the loose enforcement of drinking policies that – among other factors – may have drawn them to this school. CMC is often called the most conservative of the Claremont Colleges, and students’ response to the threat of change provides supporting evidence. The email sent by RAs included “some ways in which we can keep the alcohol polices we have now,” but it did not include any mention of how we could adapt to an evolving campus. Students responded in kind, seeking ways to to preserve “the way its always been” without considering the substantive changes that have taken place.
While the rules and their enforcement haven’t changed significantly during past decade, the students that they govern have, and new policies might be needed to accommodate those changes. The school has become more selective, enrolled more international students, and expanded its socio-economic diversity. CMC should not be neutral to the outcomes its policies create, and those outcomes are different today than they were a decade ago.
The student response was reminiscent of the Washington Consensus on global economic development. In face of evidence indicating that market fundamentalism may not be the answer for the developing world, the status quo was defended and maintained by the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury promoted continued market liberalization at all costs. In a similar manner, students created the Claremont Consensus – the notion that it couldn’t be our policies that are creating the problem despite data that raised questions about their effectiveness in promoting student safety.
The drinking culture and environment may not need a complete overhaul, but I think it is safe to say we have lost track of the goals that our policies and practice are trying to promote on our campus, and we need to reexamine our situation and decide if the current course of action is the right one. Some claim that a more permissive drinking culture on campus creates a safe social environment and prevents incidents off campus, including DUIs and sexual assault. This may be true, but do we have the data to support such a claim? We must be sure that our policies fulfill their purpose, and reviewing them instead of defending them blindly is a good place to start.
Dean Jefferson Huang announced that the College would be convening a task force to review alcohol at CMC. This was an important first step, but we must make sure that this is not an empty gesture. Students of a wide-range of backgrounds and interests must be represented on the task force, and representatives from all of the campus’s administrative bodies must also be heard. While we all have an interest in keeping students safe, the effects of these policies are felt by community member uniquely. Including all of these views is the key to fighting the Claremont Consensus that divorces policies from their results and privileges the status quo above new ideas.