A petition to alter the code of ethics governing whether New Student Leaders can be in the presence of underage drinking has sparked debate between students and faculty.
New Student Programs, which is a component of the Student Programs and Leadership Development department, assimilate freshmen and transfer students to campus culture. The program rests on the shoulders of the New Student Leaders (NSL), who help guide this transition as mentors. One of their most important duties is to combat the culture of underage drinking on campus and help students make healthy and legal recreational choices.
Data from a survey of incoming freshmen, conducted by Fairfield University, showed that the amount of high-risk drinkers is significantly above the national average. For incoming freshmen, 32 percent were reported to be high-risk drinkers in contrast to the national average of 19 percent. Another survey, conducted midway through the fall semester, showed an increase in high-risk drinkers to 44 percent of students, compared to the national average of 25 percent.
With the knowledge gained from these surveys, how can NSLs work to change Fairfield’s drinking culture?
According to John St. Marie, graduate assistant and one of the key faculty members involved in the program, the current NSL code of ethics states that if an NSL is in an environment where underage drinking is occurring, the NSL should talk to the party’s host.
“If the person that is holding the party decides not to do anything about it, then NSL [is asked] to leave that environment,” St. Marie said.
In an anonymous survey conducted by Lorena Gullotta, former co-chair of the NSL program and author of the petition, out of 44 NSLs surveyed, 90.9 percent stated that they had violated the code of ethics’ alcohol policy. 97.7 percent stated that they were in support of the petition to change the code of ethics to allow NSLs to be in the presence of underage drinking. The policy not only isolates NSLs from their friends, but also the culture they are trying to combat, Gullotta said.
Director of Student Programs and Leadership Development Kamala Kiem said that “just because 99 percent of people are violating it doesn’t mean that we change the policy.” What it does mean is New Student Programs “have more work to do” communicating with students why the policy is important.
According to Kiem, “the power of presence is exceedingly powerful. If a student leader is in the presence of illegal activity and does not intervene, it is promoting that culture,” Kiem said.
Gullotta believes the policy change would be “more of an acceptance of the fact that there is a drinking culture more than it is condoning it.” Having the leaders present in situations involving underage drinking shows “that it’s OK to go out and have fun but you don’t necessarily need to have a drink.”
Among the other arguments in favor of the petition is that by being present, NSLs would be able to step in either as a designated driver or an emergency caller if someone gets sick. In this way, Gullotta believes the petition would make NSL’s more effective leaders.
However, Kiem said, “We have assessed every possible angle,” and – while happy to clarify the reasons why the policy is in place – altering the policy, as of right now, remains off the table.
When Dan Boley ‘16 was asked about how he would feel if he saw an NSL at a party with underage drinking, he said, “I wouldn’t care because they teach us about that kind of stuff in class.”
Not all freshmen share this opinion though. “I would feel … uncomfortable if an NSL was at a party I was at where there was underage drinking just because of Freshman Year Experience,” said Diedre Simms ‘16.
“We’re struggling through this process,” Kiem said. “I’m not saying that we have everything right, right now, but the more dialogue we have, the more our team communicates with us, and the more we communicate with our team, the better we can change this culture.”