Game(s) Over: Pitzer Beirut ban shows problems with policy, perspective

Applicants to the Claremont Colleges are promised an experience that emphasizes social interaction between all the schools. However, disparities among and drastic changes to the five colleges’ alcohol policies have made drinking a touchy issue.

In August, the Port Side was the first to report yet another change: Pitzer formally banned all types of drinking games. When students arrived on campus, most were unaware of the new rule until alerted by peers. The language was among the most drastic so far, expressly forbidding both drinking games and the possession of equipment used for them:

“Games that are centered on alcohol, focus on drinking large quantities of alcohol or promote irresponsible drinking are prohibited. Any devices or paraphernalia which aid in these games may be confiscated and will not be returned. These devices include, but are not limited to beer pong or ‘Beirut’ tables and beer bongs or funnels.”

The changes are not unprecedented. In fact, Pitzer is the third Claremont College to specifically ban games centered on alcohol, although its policy is by far the most comprehensive. Policies at Pomona and Scripps forbid drinking games but do not mention items used to participate in these games.

Jim Marchant, Pitzer’s Vice President of Student Affairs, gave candid and reasoned insight into the situation. “We had about eight students hospitalized last year for reasons relating to alcohol, and at least four of those involved drinking games,” he told the Port Side. “Three quarters of our students are underage… this is just putting into writing the policy we already had.” (Before the recent revisions, Pitzer’s alcohol policy stated that “excessive” quantities of alcohol were not allowed in student rooms.) Marchant also discussed other attempts to curb alcohol-related incidents, such as more comprehensive freshman alcohol seminars. The administration’s goal, he added, is “not to punish, but to rehabilitate.”

Pitzer students’ reactions to the new rule have been mixed. “I don’t think that anyone has really paid attention to it, and I don’t think the administration really thinks they can enforce it,” sophomore Acacia Hori said. This attitude reflects an important question at the heart of the alcohol debate: why make a rule about alcohol if it cannot be enforced and will not noticeably affect alcohol consumption? Moreover, even if drinking games are the main cause of binge drinking, does the problem lie in policies or students’ mindsets?

“Playing a drinking game is one thing, getting alcohol poisoning is another,” Hori said. “It’s not the game that’s the issue, it’s a matter of self control.” Rather than eradicating binge drinking, policy drives the activity underground. Sure, a few students were hospitalized for binge drinking, and drinking games played a role, but to focus on rules is to sidestep the real issue: we have a problem within our culture, and we need to admit it.

The first step towards a solution is not hearing a speaker talk about the dangers of binge drinking or discussing policy changes. We need to start by thinking about the expectations and realities in Claremont and at the rest of our nation’s colleges. Consuming alcohol is a personal decision, and like most other personal choices, outside actors can only do so much to influence outcomes. Sweeping changes in mentalities are unlikely, and the only solution to this problem may simply be time. With time, cultures change, values progress, and public opinion shifts.

In the meantime, we can, and should, discuss the issue of alcohol on campus in a variety of ways. These very discussions could be the catalyst for the change we wish to see. Either way, alcohol on campus is here to stay, and you can bet that the drinking games policy will not be the last controversial move administrators make towards the issue.

Jonathan F. Rice, the International Managing Editor for the Claremont Port Side, is a senior at Pitzer College majoring in Political Studies with an emphasis in Global Politics. Originally from the Washington, DC area, he loves travel, critical thinking and free speech. Green tea and coffee fuel his adventures. Tweet him @j_ricecakes


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