As a UCA for the class of 2018, if you had asked me a week ago for my opinion on Dean Martinez’s changes with UCAs and alcohol, I would have vehemently disagreed with him. I have softened my position since then, because I have heard him clarify a number of aspects of the policy. He has indicated that his only concern is keeping the UCAs from assuming criminal liability by clarifying that there will not be administrative consequences for UCAs drinking with their freshmen, so long as they do not provide. Further, UCAs will not be kicked off the hall unless they provide the alcohol that directly led to a first year going to the hospital. However, even if the policy functionally changes little, it exposes the tenuous connection between Customs and alcohol, and raises a number of practical concerns.
Customs is embedded into the alcohol culture at Haverford, as is seen in the idea that freshmen should have safe drinking modeled for them on the hall. This entanglement is the result of a long period of salutary neglect by the administration. While we should all be aware that there are potential legal consequences to our actions, our perception has been shaped by the fact that nobody here today was a student the last time that Haverford students got in alcohol-related legal trouble. This low chance of legal trouble, combined with a perceived lack of consequences from the administration, underlies the culture in which UCAs, should they choose to do so, feel relatively free to provide, for better and for worse.
Dean Martinez claims that this policy is not a change to either the administration’s stance or the alcohol policy, and in a literal sense he is correct. Nobody has ever encouraged UCAs to provide, but his comparison that this change is just like a coach forbidding players from drinking the night before a game does not hold up. One way to view this change is that it is the end of salutary neglect. On that interpretation, this is a de facto change to the alcohol policy, since that neglect undergirded the ways in which first years experienced alcohol. Certainly that was my perception of the change when first announced, but in its current clarified form, I do not believe that the change will go that far. Still, what this experience highlights is that we need a campus conversation about alcohol and Customs. I would be skeptical of further policy announcements made without consultation of the student body.
The above discussion is not to say that I have no concerns about this policy. For a number of Customs teams, including my own, the pressure to provide may just shift to other over-21 team members. The same consequences will not apply, since they are already off the hall. I still worry that more freshmen will be driven to drink in less-safe environments, or that people will hesitate to call Safety and Security for a sick freshman, for fear that their UCA might get kicked off the hall. In addition, I am skeptical that it will be so easy to simply replace a UCA without it negatively affecting the freshmen, who may have formed a bond with their UCA. However, these are empirical questions that will be settled over the coming year, and I am willing to see them play out, with the hope that the policy will be reversed if things go wrong.