“No Providing” Policy for UCAs is an Administrative Cop-Out

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.

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6 Responses

  1. Checko says:

    This article is very charged and opinionated on the misunderstandings students had with Dean Martinez’s statements. The truth of the matter is that he is not, in any way, trying to “undermine” students in the Custom’s Program; he is simply informing them of the consequences and making it clear that UCA’s should be considerate about who and how much alcohol they provide to an first-year student.

    Over the course of this past year there were a large number of first-year students that were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning for the mistakes UCA’s and the Haverford community as a whole made in allowing first-year students to consume too much alcohol. Dean Martinez is the one responsible for ensuring the safety of these individuals and ensuring it does not happen again.

    It is easy to lose the sense of the real-world in this Haverbubble because there are no rules when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. But we live in a country that underage drinking has severe consequences and quite frankly the students at Haverford don’t always seem to understand that. Providing alcohol to minors isn’t something I’m against personally, but what I am against is disregard for one’s safety and I’m sure Dean Martinez thought about this too. UCA’s in providing an unhealthy amount of alcohol to freshman who don’t know how to handle it leads to hospitalization. This irresponsibility is what I’m against.

    Now, I’m not saying that everyone at Haverford is irresponsible because the majority of students here are responsible adults. However, we cannot forget that there are students that fuck it up for the rest of us, and it is these students that this “No Providing” policy is targeting.

    We shouldn’t be upset because a Dean wants to change policy to make things safer for students who aren’t being safe themselves. The Alcohol Policy isn’t working for these students and to avoid an ultimate tragedy adults have to sometimes step in. It’s true the change is un-Haverfordian but it is also human, and in order to change a policy student’s at this school aren’t going to change themselves someone had to step in. Stepping in to avoid death by alcohol poisoning. Of course no one wants this and it would be a terrible tragedy that would have adverse effects on the student body as a whole. But to be honest, student’s here wouldn’t see anything wrong in the Alcohol Policy until a death warranted it and in order to avoid this Dean Martinez emphasizes a “no providing” policy. So think about that before you claim it as un-Haverfordian.

    • Thy Vo says:

      You make a good point, I definitely was using “un-Haverfordian” kind of flippantly for the sake of rhetorical flourish, and it was a kind of stupid flourish. Of course Martinez should be concerned about irresponsible student drinking, but I suppose I am more cynical about the purpose behind this particular change. The Alcohol Policy is a place where the real world of underage drinking and Haverbubble come into conflict — and for once, here is an area where I think the Haverbubble may actually win out. Of course the College wants to address this but in my eyes it’s a liability issue and not necessarily any desire to reduce irresponsible drinking. The College decided to stop focusing on policing the issue of underage drinking in favor of promoting safety and in doing so acknowledges a level of liability that allows law-breaking to occur. This is a tension that administrators have to come to terms with; it’s not about giving students no personal responsibility at all, but I don’t think UCAs providing alcohol is the source of the issue and this is a lazy and inappropriate fix. As well-meaning as he may be I think the Deans’ Office needs to rethink the purpose of the Alcohol Policy and what exactly the no-providing rule is trying to accomplish.

      • Checko says:

        I see your point and I agree that liability is something that led to this statement by Martinez. Of course I don’t know everything that went through his mind but again I think he wanted students to rethink drinking and the availability of alcohol for first-years who misuse it.
        Having students be in charge of their Alcohol Policy makes it easier to have alcohol but it also leaves liability up in the air. I think Martinez’s move to warn students of what would happen if they provide too alcohol was a move to bring that liability down to earth. Because we often forget that there are these consequences to our actions. And yeah administrators made the initial move to let students drink freely and they assumed the responsibility because of it, but I think now they realized students aren’t being as responsible as they thought. Then students end up hospitalized and we’re blessed to not have further tragedies in our hands.
        But I fear students didn’t understand the full reasoning behind everything that went into this decision. And it’s not like he’s saying we’re going to be a dry campus; what I find he’s saying is that UCA’s will be held responsible in the real world if anything goes out of hand, hopefully having students think about their actions more clearly.

        • Friendz says:

          This policy isn’t just for the “students that fuck it up for the rest of us” though–it’s for everyone. It’s not a simple warning of “consequences,” it’s Dean Martinez telling UCAs to, “On their honor” not buy alcohol. If the administration is asking students to do ANYTHING on their honor, it can’t be a half-assed policy. This isn’t simply advising against excessive situations, and if it is, the policy should be revised to express that and not as one open to be fudged, which comphromises all honor systems at Haverford.

  2. Bystander says:

    First of all, the JSAAP policy is not to blame for the people who end up hospitalized, nor is it to credit for the ones who don’t. Individuals are the ones to be held accountable in both situations. People claim to like the JSAAP policy because it promotes a safe drinking environment – but in reality all it does is absolve people of all consequences for their actions. Some may argue that it’s not the college’s place to enforce consequences for personal choices, but the fact remains that Haverford is in America, and in America underage drinking is still very much illegal. Our JSAAP policy teaches people who are irresponsible that it’s not only ok to break the law, but it’s their peers responsibility to look out for them and make sure they aren’t a danger to themselves and others in the process. How does that instill the values of accountability and mutual respect? This policy does not violate any part of the code. Nowhere in the code states that decisions made by the administration must first be run by students for clearance. True, it is a common courtesy that is often afforded to us by the administration, but it is just that – a courtesy – not a right. If anything this policy is encouraging people to be more Haverfordian by holding them accountable for their actions when they don’t do it for themselves. Maybe customs will get to a place when this policy won’t be needed because people will hold themselves accountable without it – but we’re not there yet.

  3. kateTM says:

    “I think he wanted students to rethink drinking…”…”[meant to] warn students of what would happen if they provide too alcohol”… This isn’t a conversation, or a reminder. It is a punitive policy. The concrete effects, in my opinion, will be:

    – uncontrolled purchase of alcohol by freshmen, most likely through athletic teams or others unrelated to the Customs team
    – more freshmen drinking hard alcohol right away, given that sports teams/other people don’t necessarily have the freshmen’s well-being as their first priority
    – less on-the-hall group drinking (where customs teams members can monitor intake) given that there isn’t a common, easily accessible source
    – if UCAs do provide alcohol: less willingness on the part of the freshmen to call Safety and Security, given that the administration will be looking for the source of the alcohol
    – increased hospitalizations as a result of all of the above.

    Drinking is a reality. (The administration used to recognize that.) Moving to reduce the college’s legal liability/chances of getting sued makes freshmen more unsafe. It’s incredibly irresponsible, lazy, and selfish on the college’s part. I really do think it’s pretty un-Haverfordian.

    To bystander’s comment about this being a courtesy: the alcohol policy is student run, so making a decision re: punitive action involving alcohol is inherently a violation of a supposedly student-run document. Yes, the administration can do whatever they want, but in this case they are encroaching on territory which has previously been one of Haverford’s sacred covenants.

    Over time I’ve come to expect cursory at best student/administrative communication, but it seems as though Martinez, in a grave misreading of what student/administrative dialogue looks like, is taking it one step further. I’m glad I was able to take advantage of a safe, welcoming drinking environment with my Customs team, who truly did teach me how to drink. I was hospitalized as a freshman but it didn’t have anything to do with my Customs team or who provided me with the alcohol. It was a string of stupid decisions on my part– I knew better, my Customs team had taught me better– and that’s it. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t have happened if my Customs team had been around. Where I got the alcohol really doesn’t matter; I was drinking in a variety of places that night.

    Depriving freshmen of a group drinking experience specifically engineered for them (i.e., in many cases on the teams I’ve been on, no hard alcohol, and lots of Customs team oversight) will have negative consequences. Yes, hospitalizations occur, but that doesn’t have to do with where freshmen get the alcohol. Without a place to drink where freshmen can be watched and taken care of hospitalizations WILL increase. Freshmen will drink no matter what. Denying that endangers them.

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