Alcohol Awareness Display Spurs Controversy at Scripps

An installation using graphic imagery to promote safe alcohol consumption that was placed outside the entrances of the Malott Commons Dining Hall at Scripps Oct. 7 drew widespread criticism from students, leading to its eventual removal. The display, which consisted of two life-size human cutouts depicting female students after a night of heavy drinking, was installed by the Health Education Outreach (HEO) office, a 5C resource center that provides health and wellness information to students.

Installed one day before Scripps’s annual Eurotrash party, the figures had fake vomit and blood smeared on their tattered clothing, disheveled hair, bruises, open condoms hanging out of their pockets, and a “EUROTRASHED 2011” sign taped to their shoulders. Next to each figure stood a sign that read, “You wouldn’t start your night like this. So why end it this way?”

According to people involved, Scripps Associated Students (SAS) President Antoinette Myers SC ’12 contacted the school’s maintenance department to complain about the display. She also brought one of the cut-outs to the Dean of Student’s office, which reported having no knowledge of the installation. The Student Activities and Residential Life Office (SARLO) also said it had not approved the display, which is required for public installations on Scripps’s campus.

The lack of approval was reported to the HEO, which then followed the necessary steps to have the display approved. The displays were redisplayed for a short period of time before being permanently removed. They are now on display in the HEO office, which is located in the Tranquada Student Services Center just south of the Huntley Bookstore.

Students who saw the installation outside Malott had strong reactions to the message it conveyed.

“When I look at these images of failed femininity, my immediate emotional response is to feel shame: at my own inability to maintain a mirage of female perfection, as well as embarrassment for other women in a similar situation,” wrote Rae Picher SC ’12 in a public note on Facebook. “These images present alcohol consumption as a cause of several female-gendered experiences of shame, and uses this shame as a deterrent to excess alcohol consumption.”

Other students argued that the installation had been poorly timed and located, given its accessibility to touring prospective students and visiting alumni, including the granddaughter of Scripps’s first female trustee, Eleanor Joy Toll, who was reportedly on campus that morning.

“It was gross that it was outside the dining hall, I don’t want see that before I eat,” Ann E. Diemer SC’15 said. “There are plenty of other public places it could have been displayed.”

In a statement to be published in the Scripps Voice, SAS Media Relations Chair Francesca Simmons SC’14 wrote, “The campaign was a misuse of public space, and shaming and embarrassing to the Scripps Community. We hope that future discussions will be initiated in a more tactful and appropriate manner.”

Representatives from the HEO, which planned the installation, expressed frustration at the way students responded to the issue.

“I’m really displeased with how the student body president handled it—posting it on Facebook and not coming forward to us beforehand,” said Dylan Mendoza CM ’12, HEO Peer Health Educator, referring to a Facebook post that Myers wrote about the incident. “We are open with dialogue at HEO and going on a rant on Facebook on how horrible it is isn’t going to make me learn what it’s like, it’s just going to make me upset.”

“If we knew it was offending this many people, we would have taken it down ourselves,” he added.

According to the HEO, the campaign against excessive alcohol consumption was partially motivated by a sharp rise in alcohol transports at the 5Cs this year. The figures were modeled after videos released in 2008 by the “Know Your Limits” campaign, a project of the Public Health Agency. One of the videos depicts a woman preparing to go out, who suddenly rips her clothes, rubs vomit on herself, and removes the heel off of her shoe. As with the HEO installation, the video concludes with a warning, “You wouldn’t start your night like this. So why end it this way?”

According to students at the HEO, the installation was planned as the first in a series of installations to be displayed across the colleges in anticipation of high-profile 5C parties. They said that Scripps’s campus was chosen as the first site for an installation because the school’s Eurotrash party was the first major 5C party this semester.

“I thought a lot of the initial comments were reactionary, not really critiquing anything,” said Andrea Kablanian SC ’12, a volunteer Peer Health Educator at HEO. “None of us were ever targeting gender norms, we weren’t bashing femininity, we weren’t portraying a specific image of femininity, we weren’t trying to indicate she was a rape victim.”

Despite receiving a strongly negative reaction from students over the first installation, representatives from HEO said they plan to continue using the displays and to create new displays to promote safe alcohol consumption in the future.

“I stand by the message—know your limits, don’t overdrink, don’t end up as a statistic, don’t end up taking Alcohol 101 classes at HEO,” Mendoza said. “There’s nothing wrong with partying.”

Other representatives at HEO agreed, but acknowledged that installations could be improved.

“I would in hindsight have suggested an e-mail with the video, maybe had a couple of students by each side explain the campaign,” Kablanian said.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, Scripps students discussed the incident in an SAS-sponsored “Be Heard” alcohol policy forum. The event was part of a year-long discussion over revising Scripps’s alcohol policy.

“Some ideas that were generated [at the meeting] were revising the roles of RAs, peer mentors, and HEO, and different approaches that will be more realistic for students so that [those resources] can be support services rather than sources of intimidation, or, in the case of the HEO outreach, of victim-blaming and humiliation,” SAS Vice President and forum moderator Claire Calderon SC ’12 said.

Scripps Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rebecca Lee, who approved the concept of the installation, added that “pre-testing in terms of reactions and getting more feedback” would have been a good step to take. However, she said she would not limit the visibility of any alcohol awareness campaign on campus in the future.

“As long as it met the standards of appropriateness, I would not try and hide it,” Lee said. “I think college campuses should be reflecting who we are.”

“It takes a lot to get students’ attention,” she added. “Sometimes a bit of controversy will help the educational process.”

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