Consensus Between Schools on Sub-Free Opening Remains Elusive

Signs plastered on every bulletin board in
every building were impossible to avoid during orientation and the first week of classes: “Keep sub-free, no alcohol on campus even for those over 21,” the postings read.

In an effort to quell both high-risk drinking and instances
of sexual assault, which national research has shown are most common in the
first six weeks of school, according to Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum in a talk with OA leaders, substance-free opening is designed to introduce all
students, and especially first-years, to the social environment of the 5Cs without
the complications and potential dangers of alcohol.

While all five undergraduate institutions enforce a substance-free opening, the school’s substance-free periods have typically ended at different times. Last year, there was almost a week between the end of Claremont McKenna College’s substance-free opening,
which ended on the first Tuesday of classes, and Pomona College’s, which ended the
following Monday.

“We were getting two different kinds of feedback from students,” Feldblum said. “On
the one hand, there was appreciation of the existence and message behind
sub-free. But, on the other hand, we were hearing that it was problematic that
each college was ending at a different time.”

In light of this feedback, the five administrations
made a concerted effort to synchronize their substance-free periods. The goal was to have
substance-free end on the same day, at the same time, across all of the campuses, according to Feldblum.

There has been progress since previous years; for the first time, all
campuses ended their substance-free period within a 24-hour window. The schools still failed to completely match their substance-free dates, however.

While the 5Cs ended substance-free closer together this year than in the past, some students still felt that there was room for improvement and that it is essential to have a completely consistent time frame. “The refusal of the other campuses—other than Pomona and Pitzer—to wait until at least Sunday to end sub-free is completely incongruent with the desire to reduce sexual assault and is, in my opinion, indefensible,” Kevin Guttenplan PO ’14 said. “The decrease in ‘fun’that may result from not waiting to end sub-free until a weekday night is far outweighed by the likely increase in probability of instances of sexual assault.”

Dean Feldblum attributed the difficulties in reaching a compromise between the five administrations to a variety of factors, mainly the different philosophical underpinnings and the methods of engaging students within each school. Essentially, each college is approaching the problem differently. “We’re all coming from different places, with different ideas and opinions,” Feldblum said. “I’m a political scientist, and sometimes in politics and compromise, you get very close, but people are coming from such different viewpoints that it never becomes unanimous agreement. For us [at Pomona], we felt that ending sub-free on Sunday at noon was an appropriate time. ”

CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman said that the college deans of all the 5Cs agreed to end substance-free within a 24-hour window, while deans from Harvey Mudd College were unavailable for comment on the matter.

More than just substance-free end times changed for 2013 orientation. According to Harvey Mudd Social Chair Sophie Parks HM ’14, there was more security at this year’s Dis-Orientation, a dry dance on Harvey Mudd’s Campus. The dance has historically been intended for Harvey Mudd and Scripps, but students from the other schools would often find their way into the festivities. This year, that changed.

“Every year we deal with students from other campuses coming inebriated or with alcohol. This event is to celebrate the end of the first week of school and to facilitate relationship building with and amongst new students,” Parks said. “This year the Mudd-Scripps thing was enforced more stringently solely because people from the other 3Cs were showing up and we’ve never really had that happen in the past.”

Not every student agrees that substance-free should even be a policy at all, and some feel that events should be open to all students.

“I think it really puts people into boxes in the first week of school,” Alex Razin PO ’17 said. “It’s not like it’s hard for people to break it. So essentially, you have the people who keep sub-free, and the people who break it, and there’s already a social division.”

Others like the conceptual basis of the substance-free opening and believe it could be a benefit socially.

“I think sub-free opening is actually a good thing. It’s a good way to meet people and have conversations you’ll actually remember,” Eugene Nandwa CMC ’17 said. “But, I think the way it was set up did alienate some people. It would have been easier to have everyone end at the same time.”

Feldblum encourages student feedback, as drug and alcohol policies are constantly being re-evaluated to maximize safety for every student at the 5C’s. However, she still stresses the importance of polices like substance-free because of the issues they force the community to face. 

“The messages of sub-free are important for the campus—for students to engage socially without the added pressures of alcohol or other substances, for all students to be mindful of the issue of sexual assaults,” Feldblum said. “Of course, these messages do not end with the ending of sub-free, but sub-free gives students and staff a chance to talk about the issues right at the outset.”

Whether or not the colleges can come closer together on the actual implementation of such policies remains to be seen.

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