In a detailed letter sent out to all students on Tuesday, Oct. 1, Dean of the College Shirley Collado and Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott outlined changes to both the written alcohol and party policies and the College’s education, prevention and response programs.
While the changes may seem trivial, top administrators said they have game-changing possibilities, streamlining the party system while promoting safety and transparency.
“It’s my hope that students will see this and understand that this could have a great impact,” Collado said. “The changes are asking students ‘what do you want to do? how do you want to claim the kind of culture that you want on this campus?’ because the barriers have lessened significantly. I’d like to challenge students to really not sit around and be frustrated because the current system really gives students a tremendous amount of responsibility within the framework of Vermont State law that we have an obligation to follow.”
Unbeknownst to many students, Vermont has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the country, often binding the College’s hands when it comes to promoting a vibrant social scene.
The current changes were the accumulation of a multi-year, comprehensive look at the College’s policies that began in 2012 with the creation of the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life. The Task Force, co-chaired by Abbott and Head Football Coach Bob Ritter , brought together students, faculty, public safety officials and custodians. They submitted their final recommendations to Collado on May 4, 2012, and spent the following academic year meeting in smaller “Implementation Teams.”
“We didn’t just wake up and make these changes,” Collado said. “It was strategic and thoughtful.”
Abbott wrote in the email that it is important to remember that “a huge amount of student effort” influenced the recent changes.
“That has been one of the great take-a-ways for me in this ongoing process — the extent to which many students on campus are deeply invested in trying to improve social life and to take responsibility for planning parties and other social functions that are varied, fun and yes, safe,” Abbott wrote in the email.
Abbott noted that the recommendation for creating a party monitors program and the idea of extending the end of registered parties at Ridgeline until 3 a.m. all came from students.
“When I got the email from the Dean of the College this morning, I was actually ecstatic,” Nathan LaBarba ’14 said. “Middlebury students are responsible adults, for the most part. We can be responsible and we can be held accountable for our own safety and security to an extent, and I believe that is what this program will allow us to do.”
LaBarba was one of the seven students on the original Task Force, and called the changes “a great victory.” While serving on the Task Force, he saw first hand the frustrating legal roadblocks and liquor policies that made implementation a challenge.
“Navigating all of these different channels was tough, but we came together and presented what I thought were a fairly comprehensive system of changes and reforms,” he said. “I would say that every single one of our most important proposed changes was reflected in the announcement today from the Dean of the College.”
Additional changes included an increased number of spaces for students to register parties in, more flexible guest lists, later party registration deadlines, longer maximum party hours and Grille giveaways to help offset the much-maligned food requirement.
The College’s “Good Samaritan Policy,” which grants amnesty to students who seek emergency assistance for themselves or others, had been practiced informally for years but was set in stone as part of the changes.
“We’ve been practicing the ‘Good Samaritan Policy’ for years, but we wanted to put it into writing so students knew how serious we were about the safety of students,” Collado said.
While almost all of the changes increase flexibility for students socially, the letter also outlined an increased focus on the dangers of hard alcohol. Citing language in the 2012 Task Force report that attributed the majority of hospital transports, issues of disrespect and disruptive behavior to hard alcohol, the new policy aims at “holding students accountable at the highest level for hard-alcohol-related policy violations.”
“We are looking at hard alcohol infractions in a much more serious way, especially because we know the hard facts about hard alcohol’s effect on first-years and sophomores,” Collado said. “People get transported to the hospital because of hard alcohol, and we are going to intervene faster, stronger, and earlier.”
While Collado would not say the College is on the road to a hard alcohol ban, she said the Community Council would be taking up the issue of hard alcohol on campus this coming semester.
Both Associate Dean of Students Douglas Adams and Collado stressed that the increased flexibility of the policy changes puts the ball in students’ court.
“I encourage social houses and other student organizations who want to host parties to take advantage of the new regulations,” Adams said. “I have had a very positive response from social house leaders about the new policies and hope that we will see more well-run, registered events at the houses and in residential lounges.”
Collado further emphasized that students at the College have it good.
“There are campuses around this state that are dry and where students have to deal directly with the police,” she said. “These changes are about giving students agency while still holding them responsible. Ultimately, it’s on students to decide ‘what am I going to do on Friday night?’”