Notes from Nick: A prehistoric social policy

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By Nick DAngelo

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting the manufacturing, sale or transportation of alcohol. What is perhaps even more interesting though, and oft overlooked, is the legislation passed by Congress ten months later. The Volstead Act was meant to enforce the new policy of prohibition, but it failed. Because of large cities disinterest in enforcement and an understaffed federal service, the policy accidentally created a black market for alcohol, backroom drinking, and unregulated sale and consumption.

The new social policies enacted at Union can draw some valid comparisons. While well intentioned, the administrative policy barring freshmen from the social scene on campus has had more negative effects than positive ones. It isolates freshmen from the larger community, which is both morally objectionable and physically dangerous. Also, it further solidifies the taboo stereotype that Greek Life has unfairly been branded with, and it does little to quell the real problems occurring all around us.

In May 2012, the Minerva Council met to discuss how the seven houses on campus would handle, and be affected by, the new social policies. With freshmen barred from all Greek parties for five weeks, Minervas saw an opportunity to reinvigorate their social image. Last spring, Golub House, which has a long history of reaching out to the Greek community, began planning a formal social event with Gamma Phi Beta. Kappa Alpha soon joined on. While Minerva houses often do hold social events with alcohol, there is greater oversight, more regulation and more enforcement than other parties on campus. It would be a way for first year students to enter the social scene at Union, interact with the upperclassmen they’ve been wrongly segregated from, and introduce them to both Minerva and Greek life.

Let’s be clear, freshmen would still not have ready access to alcohol. With social hosts, I.D. checks at the door, wrist banding and campus safety in and out, this is perhaps the most regulated environment one could create. And yet freshmen were barred from even entering simply because it was a Greek co-sponsored event.

The absurd notion that first years have neither the maturity nor capability to look at, think about, or be in the presence of alcohol is naïve and prehistoric. It wrongly eliminates first year students from our community, confining them to their own dormitories and punishing them for a wrong they never committed.

The policy also wrongly punishes Greek Life. Are there problems on campus? Of course there are—it’s obvious. But is it a problem with the system or isolated incidents that can be avoided? I would argue for the latter. Under this new policy, “alcohol” and “Greek Life” become dirty words, associated with a taboo that ignores our college’s history and further isolates a key component of our community.

An effective policy must focus on personal responsibility and individual self-discipline. Stupid mistakes occur because of stupid decisions. But it has always been the philosophy of the Union administration to discipline through education, not nascent punishment. It is a worthy philosophy that has been abandoned under this new policy.

In the wake of the new Honor Code policy, which stresses trust between the student body, faculty and administration, the social policy is something beyond hypocrisy. There is no trust, no understanding and no discussion. It is an “us” and “them” mentality that will only divide and foster a continuing, lingering resentment for hierarchy, rules and responsibility.

During the 1987 U.S. Senate confirmation hearings of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, Senator Ted Kennedy described what America would look like under Bork’s policies. In the “Bork’s America” speech, Kennedy accused Judge Bork of being stuck in a Neanderthal past, noting:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters…and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Well, in this administration’s Union College, first year students are forced into back-room drinking, Greek Life is segregated and further ostracized from our community, the philosophy of personal responsibility, at the heart of our community, is abandoned in exchange for harsh communal punishment, and the problems that persist continue to have unintended consequences.

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