Students are concerned about potential changes to the Customs program after the new First-Year Dean Michael Martinez announced last Sunday during a training session that Upper Class Advisers (UCAs) will be kicked out of their Customs housing if they purchase or provide alcohol for their group.
According to incoming UCAs, Martinez made it clear in interviews for the position that providing alcohol to underage students has never been tolerated. But it was only at Sunday’s training that he announced the additional consequences for providing alcohol, a decision that even Martinez admits was made unilaterally and without any prior discussion with Customs committees or JSAAP, the student group that administers the Alcohol Policy.
After a resoundingly negative student reaction, Martinez later defended his decision in an email to UCAs, clarifying that he had no intention to blindside students and had “made some false assumptions about what people knew and understood and I got it wrong, clearly.”
Some would argue that the Alcohol Policy and Customs Programs produce substantial liabilities for the College, creating unsupervised spaces for underage and potentially irresponsible drinking. It’s clear now that the College is spotting liability magnets and grey areas built into its historically lax supervision of student life and is attempting to patch up holes in its policies. When an underage student becomes ill or is sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, who becomes responsible – the student that purchased and provided the alcohol, or the Dean’s Office that failed to prevent that illegal exchange with clear guidelines and consequences?
UCAs have always been cautioned against providing alcohol to first-years, but many students say the College has never clarified or explicitly stated consequences for violating the “no-providing” rule. The new emphasis on consequences points to an administrative anxiety about liability that should have students concerned about Martinez’s understanding of the Alcohol Policy and about the quasi-administrative role UCAs are expected to fill. While the shift in emphasis is unsurprising from an administrator, it’s also un-Haverfordian.
While UCAs provide academic support for first-year students, as juniors and seniors they are typically the only members of the Customs team who are of legal drinking age. In addition to providing a social support network, both the Alcohol Policy and Customs groups often work in tandem to introduce a space for responsible drinking: upperclassmen are expected to model responsible behavior and help underclassmen feel safe and follow those guidelines. The rules and parameters of this space are not only set by a student-approved Alcohol Policy, but by individual Customs groups. Cracking down on underage drinking or putting pressure on older students would undermine the effectiveness of a peer-facilitated environment that, for the most part, has helped reduce some of the dangerous drinking behaviors we see at other schools. Moreover, it points to increasing expectations for UCAs from providing academic and social support to performing enforcement and safety responsibilities that should not be saddled on a student volunteer.
UCAs do have responsibilities to the safety and well being of their freshmen, but the Dean’s Office should be cautious about when their expectations veer away from social and peer support roles toward custodial responsibilities. Creating and emphasizing consequences for UCAs could not only create a punitive environment and undermine trust, but push the role from peer mentors to something akin to a residential adviser (RA), a position that is typically compensated and comes with clear rules and responsibilities. At Swarthmore College, Residential Assistants are responsible for providing general information and counseling in addition to security, fire protection and general dorm safety, and receive compensation roughly equal to the cost of housing. UCAs are also asked to perform other functions that make them quasi-official liaisons between students and administrators. As members of Customs, they are mandated to report incidences of rape or sexual assault. They also keep the Dean’s Office informed about students who may be having social or personal troubles.
Haverford boasts a culture of student governance and an Alcohol Policy that prioritizes student safety over minimizing legal liability (although the former clearly enables the latter). By introducing this change without any discussion with students, Martinez failed to respect these values. Moreover, they are overreaching in an arena of student governance and peer mentorship that already works.
The College is ultimately responsible for ensuring a safe housing environment for all students. In some ways, they have transferred some of the responsibility and liability of this onto students, who are often happy to do so in order to promote a positive first-year experience. While students should be reminded of the consequences of providing alcohol to a minor, this new rule attempts to push UCAs into an administrative liaison role in a manner that is unfair and uncompensated.