Pomona Task Force to Review Alcohol Policy

A task force, consisting of 16 trustees, faculty, administrators, and students, convened at the beginning of this academic year to review issues of alcohol policy at Pomona College. The group first met on Oct. 9, during the weekend of the Student-Trustee Retreat, and will meet again on Dec. 9. The first meeting addressed current policies, programming, and education about alcohol use on campus, as well as issues of substance culture and substance-free culture. The meeting on Wednesday will narrow the discussion to two or three specific topics, according to Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum, who sits on the committee. The third and final meeting will be held in the spring.“This committee is part of periodic reviews that the Board of Trustees does with regard to a number of topics…This year we have an IT review and an alcohol policy review,” Feldblum said.“They did [another alcohol policy review] about five or six years ago,” said committee member Greg Carter PO ’10. “There were a few changes made.”Changes made during the 2002-03 school year included the imposition of a $100 fine for underage possession of hard alcohol and the implementation of a “Good Samaritan” policy that holds students responsible for the safety of their peers and prevents them from being sanctioned if they report a fellow student that they think may be in danger.Feldblum identified four goals of the current policies on alcohol: safety, which she identified as the top priority, harm reduction, effective therapy, and compliance with the law. “I am totally open to [a discussion of] whether the policies in place are the best policies to have in order to reach our goals,” she said.According to Feldblum, harm reduction means “to put policies in place that encourage more responsible drinking. [Pomona] is intentionally not a dry campus.” She also noted that reducing the amount of binge drinking is a top priority under this goal. The banning of hard alcohol on South Campus and the banning of drinking games are directed toward this goal, Feldblum said.However, Feldblum and Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes agreed that the policy on drinking games has been contested by students and could potentially be reconsidered. Oona Eisenstadt, associate professor of Religious Studies and chair of the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), concurred, saying that the SAC is committed “to at least raise the question of whether we should have a better definition of drinking games in the Student Handbook.”According to Eisenstadt, the SAC, the policy-forming committee, is not committed to any sort of systematic review of alcohol policy. “We will help [the task force] out by trying to pinpoint and prioritize the issues they want to look at,” she said.This current review arose from discussions at last year’s student-trustee retreat, according to Carter. “The whole student group [in the session about alcohol policy] was pretty solidly negative on how the policy works,” he said. “The trustees were kind of concerned about that, so they, with whatever powers they have, convened a committee.”Issues brought up at the retreat, which are now topics in front of the review committee, include disparities in policy enforcement, lack of student understanding of policies, and the question of what constitutes private and public space, Carter said. One over-arching goal, said Carter, is for the college to “make sure that we have standards that are internally consistent.”Townes agreed that a clarification on the issue of public and private space is important. As the dean of the office responsible for enforcing policy, among other things, Townes echoed the importance of consistency. “I’d like RAs and the Office of Campus Life to be viewed in two frames: consistent and fair,” he said.One other issue that the committee is concerned with is the number of Pomona students that are transported to the hospital each year for alcohol-related incidents. The number was ten in 2008-09 and 13 in 2007-2008. It was consistently under ten prior to the 2003-04 school year.“Our numbers [of students transported to the hospital for alcohol issues] are much higher than the other colleges’, partly because we have a much more coordinated RA system,” Carter said. “We are generally very conservative when it comes to student health [in alcohol incidents].” He noted that the Good Samaritan policy could also account for the high number. Townes concurred, saying, “We would rather [RAs] err on the side of safety. At the end of the day, if you’re not sure, call the paramedics.”Feldblum said that the high number of transports could be “evidence that the policy’s working. Students feel that they can call for help without fear of being sanctioned.”However, she noted that the fire department has expressed discontent about the high number of transports.“They are not happy, in their role, that they have to transport drunk students. They feel that it takes them away from some real emergency.”Carter feels that the variety of perspectives on the committee will serve it well as it begins to review policy. “I think we have a pretty good representation of different kinds of students on campus. I think we have a pretty good knowledge…of a lot of different subcultures on campus,” he said, adding that “the trustees are coming at it from a lot of different angles.”“The students on the committee are really important,” agreed Feldblum.

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