Over-21 students can be pipeline for campus alcohol abuse 06/19/07
This week, we're looking at the issue of drinking and safety on college campuses. Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne announced last week that criminal charges are still possible following the alcohol-related deaths of two students at Paul Smiths College. Champagne says state police are still investigating the drownings of 20 year-old Sean Cornell and 18 year-old Lee Walker. The students died when their canoes overturned on Lower St. Regis Lake last month as they returned from a party. State police said drinking alcohol contributed to their deaths. Champagne said they're looking into how Cornell, Walker and other underage students at the party obtained alcohol. Yesterday, Brian Mann reported on the controversy surrounding Paul Smiths College, where five young people have died in the last three years. Brian spoke with Paul Smiths President John Mills, who says the school is working hard to keep older students from supplying liquor to friends who are underage.
JM-John Mills, President Paul Smithís College in up-state New YorkBM-Reporter, North Country Public Radio
JM-My number one issue, number one issue in the alcohol area, 21 and over students buying for the under 21. I have students tell me this is an unjust law, we are going to break it. HowÖ
BM-Let me ask you a question about that. I mean, when you have a student turn to you and say not am I only going to break the law, but I am going to put one of your other students at risk, how did you respond to this?
JM-By telling them that they are breaking the law. Iíve had students say to me Henry David Thoreau told me that it is my obligation to protest unjust laws and thatís what I am doing. I know itís silly when it comes to alcohol compared to what Thoreau was talking about, but thatís what they say. They are young, their cognitive skills are developing and they use that argument.
BM-My response short of a gut instinct, is at that point the philosophical debate about Thoreau might end and you might say, if you do this I will do everything in my power to get you arrested.
JM-We do say that. We tell them, we are going to get you. But again, you know, they are bullet proof.
BM-Whatís your sense, are you getting some of them, have you sort of put the fear of god into them that you if I bring this 16 or probably 17 or 18 year old into my room and I give them a beer or I give them a shot of Jack Daniels, you know I am really at risk of getting kicked out of Paul Smithís or even at risk of having a state police officer pick us up.
JM-Yes, but for some others, it will never happened to me. You can ask the police, that is what their response is. Their response is that it will never happen to me.
BM-One of the concerns thatís been raised was the decision to actually after the 2005 event to actually go ahead and open a pub on campus in an establishment where students over the age of 21 could come in and drink. And I know there were concerns raised at the time about this. You had this community committee that had been formed and some of them questioned this decision. Why was that a good decision to open a pub on campus?
JM-Well first of all the plans for the pub were proposed by the student body long before the deaths in 2005. In moving ahead in the planning process for that to be in the new student center, this was a student based initiative that was brought to me several times in over the course of several years actually the plan was modified and iterations were considered and finally I agreed that this was a reasonable thing for us to do and I brought it to the Board of the Trustees for approval. Now obviously, the people raised issues of why are you doing that. The fundamental issue that we face is not 21 years olds but 21 year olds giving alcohol to under 21. So we wanted to establish an environment on campus where students of legal age could come in an adult and well-controlled manner and have the opportunity to purchase legal beverages. I also went out to my presidentsí community, went to the counsel of independent colleges meeting and actually asked that question about college presidents and many encouraged me first of all to pursue it because they had done it and found it as a success and other colleges have done this. It is an attempt to try to provide an adult atmosphere for those who are of legal age so they are not going out to someplace buying lots of alcohol and then bringing it back to campus.
BM-If this is the concern that the older students introducing alcohol into the culture of the younger students, why continue to allow drinking in the dorms rooms? It seems like especially with the pub, that sort of allows a place for the older drinking and it just seems like it would be very, very difficult to police the kind of drinking and the people drinking if it can happen in the dormitories.
JM-We are looking at that issue, but I can tell you prohibition didnít work in the United States and it does not work on any college campus that I am aware of unless it is some type of faith based institution. And again, we looked at other institutions and we find that it creates more of the problems of closeted, binge drinking in secluded places and we do not feel that we want to do that. Plus, I honestly feel that you know once you got an adult population that is 21 years old, I think it is reasonable to consider ways that they can exercise their legal rights. I think we have to have a discussion, what does it mean to be an adult.
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