The “Right” to Drink and Drug Part II

Posted on December 17, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The moment that I polished off my first post on this topic I knew I needed to write a follow-up. While the first post may have left you thinking that I frame my stance on underage drinking and illegal drug use strictly on personal consequences and a student’s ability to accept, weigh and then decide what means the most to them, that is not the complete story. One of my strongest personal and professional values is that of community building and collective responsibility AND drinking/drugging tend to have a negative impact on communities; students need to realize that they are not only responsible for their own actions, but how those actions impact others. It is this premise, along with those mentioned previously that further guide my conversations with students.

When talking with students I want to know who else was affected by the incident in question. Did a roommate or RA  have to watch over you or clean up your mess after a night of heavy drinking? Was another student’s study or sleep schedule interrupted because of your actions? Did a co-worker have to cover a shift or make up an excuse for you? Did a parent, friend or community member have to spend a restless night worried? Was a professor disrespected by your absence, tardiness, sleeping in class or poor performance on a test? AND after all these, the more follow-up questions such as, Have they ever been the caretaker for a drunk or high friend? Have they ever been inconvienced or disrespected as a result of another person’s drinking/drugging? How did it make you feel? What did you expect that person to do to make it up to you/ What can you do to restored order to the community that they have negatively affected?

Fortunately this conversation feeds very nicely into the one about person responsibility. In the long run, every personal consequence does come with a collective one. If they choose or are required to take an alcohol or drug diversion class then someone from health services is required to teach it and do their intake appointment. If they have to pay a fine to the courts then someone has to process the paperwork and attend the court hearing. If choose  to make personal amends to someone who was hurt because of their actions that other person has to be willing to listen and relive the experience.

It is important for my conversations with students to address this ripple effect. Even after addressing the violation from this community consequence/collective responsibility side, students may still choose to engage in behaviors that suject them to very negative consequences. It is still their choice whether they drink/drug, but now they know that they are not only risking their own values, goals, and well-being, but also risking the values, goals and well-being of others.


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2 Responses to “The “Right” to Drink and Drug Part II”

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I like your conception of “the ripple effect.” As my experience as a Resident Advisor during my undergraduate years, one of the biggest causes of roommate conflict was alcohol (usually one roommate who chooses to engage in drinking and comes home making a lot of noise, inviting people over to drink when the other roommate wants to sleep or study, one roommate returning late at night and causing a lot of noise, damage to the other roommate’s property, etc.)

You mention that drinking and its negative consequence is a choice. However, one new policy change I’ve noticed a lot of Residence Life programs adopt is that underage students who are in the same room as other underage residents consuming alcohol can be found responsible for violating the alcohol policy, even if they did not consume any alcohol themselves. It is easy to see how the choice of one roommate to drink can negatively affect their roommate, who has to either stay in their room and risk being found in violation of housing policy or leave their room. I think neither option is fair to the roommate who chooses not to engage in drinking. They may have to leave the room when they want to sleep or study or they may have to stay out of their room until late hours.

Many Residence Life professionals argue that they should tell a Resident Assistant about the policy violation occurring in their room; however, it is easy to see how that may strain a roommate relationship. In my experiences, I tried to encourage students to discuss and set expectations concerning drinking/substance abuse use at the start of the year. Roommates should discuss what behaviors they are willing to tolerate in their personal space and what their limits are. However, it’s impossible to make these agreements binding, but it can be good to revisit the agreement made by the roommates during a conflict mediation or conduct meeting. I also think it is vital to help students develop effective and respective confrontation skills in order to address with their roommate that their behavior is inappropriate or needs to stop. Many roommates who have not built a solid relationship often resort to more passive methods of communication, such as calling the RA if their roommate is too loud or is obstructing their studying or sleeping needs.

Britt, you bring up an interesting wrinkle to the concept of choice and the potential negative consequences attached to poor ones. Ultimately if a residence hall has the policy mentioned below, I would still explain to a student that it is his choice whether he drinks or not. At the same time I would be very careful to explain the extent of the ripple effect that his choice could have. Is the student really willing to compromise his roommates’ housing status, conduct record, academic success, and overall wellness just so he can drink or do drugs in his room? I also think that this type of policy requires fast action on the part of residence hall staff after a first time violation. It would be imperative to get all roommates together to discuss the violation, how to ensure it does not happen again, and do outline specific consequences for future violations. Roommates should be able to discuss their expectations of one another openly and how those expectations will be maintained. Setting these expectations early may help to alleviate some of the concerns associated with turning in a roommate, particularly if a student can voice how a roommate’s inappropriate behavior will affect them directly.

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