Students Criticize Common Area Alcohol Policy

Guy Stevens PO ’13 lives in a seven-person suite in Pomona's Lawry Court dormitory. Two weeks ago, Stevens and his suitemates, the majority of whom are over the age of 21, had a gathering of about twenty friends in their common room. They were drinking wine and playing music when, according to Stevens, two Residence Advisors (RAs) entered their suite and brought an early end to the party.

“At about 11:15 p.m., two RAs came in, walked around for about two minutes, and then stood in front of the speakers and told everyone who didn’t live in the suite to leave immediately,” Stevens said.

Stevens's story may sound familiar to most Pomona students, who are used to drinking in small groups behind closed doors—even when they are over the age of 21—so as to avoid violating the school's "public space" policy, which forbids students from consuming alcohol in areas that are considered a public space.

However, according to members of last year's Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which discusses changes to the student handbook, a policy was approved by SAC last year that would permit consumption of alcohol by students over the age of 21 in all common living room areas on campus, including those in the Lawry suites.

According to the alcohol policy section of the student handbook, the new policy reads, "Students may not drink alcoholic beverages in public areas on campus, except at officially registered parties and social events at which those over 21 years of age may be served or at private gatherings in common living room areas of student suites (applicable for students who are 21 years of age and older)." The implication, according to students familiar with the issue, is that the policy grants of-age students the right to consume alcohol with a group of people in common room areas without fear of being sanctioned for drinking in public space.

According to former SAC member Caroline Rubin PO '12, who served as North Campus Representative on the ASPC Senate last year, one of the goals of the policy change was to create a more balanced social atmosphere between that of small, private dorm rooms and that of large, highly-public events like Scripps's Eurotrash and Harvey Mudd's Foam.

“We hoped to designate common rooms as a place to hang out and have calmer, more low-key evening events," she said. "This way, tons of people aren’t stuffed into a dorm room, which is more dangerous anyways."

Stevens expressed frustration at the RAs’ failure to interpret his Lawry common room in the context of the new policy.

"There should not be restrictions on our common room that don’t apply to dorm rooms," Stevens said. "We are given this extra space, so we should be able to have more people there; otherwise, what’s the point [of the common room]?"

Stevens said he feels there is a lack of communal spaces on Pomona's campus where students can socialize while drinking responsibly in medium- to large-sized groups.

“Aside from a 5C party, which is not really conducive to talking and meeting people, there’s not really a place for that kind of gathering,” Stevens said. “5C parties are great for dancing, but not for meeting people—it’s not really the place to do that. That’s what common rooms should be for."

According to Rubin, the new policy change was targeted specifically at fixing this problem in the Lawry suites and in the common rooms of Pomona's new residence halls, which are divided up entirely into suites ranging from three to six students. Rubin, who lives in the new dorms, said that RAs treat the common rooms of suites in the new dorms as semi-private spaces, in that they will open the door to take a look inside every night but will not do full walk-throughs or write up students for consuming alcohol or hosting medium-sized social gatherings in the common rooms.

“Even on a Sunday night at 11:00 p.m. when we’re all in our pajamas, the RA will stop by,” she said.

Rubin added that while she had not envisioned this type of enforcement when drafting the new policy on SAC last year, she does not see a problem with the current system.

“[RAs] briefed everyone in the new dorms at the start of the semester, and we were all sent e-mails," she said. "It didn’t come as a surprise. We were given ample opportunity to ask questions."

According to Ric Townes, Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life, the new residence hall suites are being treated differently than the Lawry common rooms because the Lawry common areas still constitute public space under the new policy.

“Based on the policy changes, Lawry didn’t change at all," he said. "The new residence halls are different, but Lawry didn’t change."

“In the Student Affairs Committee, the issue was whether to treat the common area of the suites in the new buildings differently from the way we treat a common room in Lawry," Townes said. "And the answer is yes, because it is more private. It is a private suite. Lawry [has] universal access to all of Pomona. That’s why there is a distinction between those two kinds of spaces," he said.

Each suite in Lawry is accessible through two doors—one that requires the room key of a student living in that suite, and one that has a card swipe reader that is accessible to all Pomona students. While the accessibility of the common living room areas is not addressed in the new policy, Townes implied that the restricted-access nature of the suites in the new residence halls—so that only students living in the suites can access those suites—differentiates them from the suites in Lawry.

This distinction, Townes said, justifies the way the new policy is enforced.

“In Lawry, the expectation is that RAs walk into the common rooms—that’s what they’ve been doing since before I arrived," he said. "They swipe in, and they stand in there."

Because of the more "private" nature of the new residence hall suites, Townes said enforcement there was still evolving.

"In terms of the way we’re doing walk-throughs in the new space, it’s a work in progress,” he said.

Townes said the current system in place in the new residence halls is partially a response to advice from Pomona's attorneys, dubbed "The Lawyers" by SAC members.

“Dean [Miriam] Feldblum and I literally walked the complex with our attorney to get advice about what to do and what not to do while we were debating this policy," Townes said. "[The attorney] said to us, 'If you don’t at least enter these suites, you are abdicating your responsibility and therefore you are liable.'"

Townes said that RAs go through special training for handling suites in the new dorms.

“I trained them myself," he said. "I said, 'Knock, step inside; looks fine, step outside.'"

"I said, 'Don’t go in looking around; just go in, and if everything seems fine, it’s fine. Walk out,'" Townes recalled.

He added that RAs have been asked to hold check-ins with their residents to answer questions about policy and other things.

“I told them to go back to every suite and talk to people, to find out about their complaints, and [that] we’re going to work on it," Townes said. "We’ve got to figure it out over the next year, maybe two."

"This is new," he added. "This is new for all of us."