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My Right to Blackout

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(Lilia Paz)– “You don’t have a constitutional right to blackout”-You’re right, Biddy. I do not have a God or school-given right to blackout Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or any other day. But it does not mean that these mistakes will not happen. The manner in which the administration presented its policies at the meeting on Tuesday night was condescending, vague, and paternalistic (or rather maternalistic on Biddy’s part). I’d like to commend Biddy for addressing us on the issue of blacking out. It’s entitlement to think we have the right to constantly put ourselves in a dangerous state and to ask the school to permit us to do so.

The meeting began with an overview of what occurred during Crossett Christmas this past Saturday night and early Sunday morning. I’m glad the meeting was called. I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened that night or why additional police force was called. I was especially glad at the turnout the meeting had; here were far more people there than had attended the preceding Reddit event. Provost Uvin began the meeting by laying out several factors that could have contributed to the chaos: the event was heavily publicized on social media, thereby ensuring a high turnout; UMass has passed more restrictive policies, which has encouraged their students to go off-campus for parties; the stair wells were incredibly overcrowded; many people were intoxicated. With each possible factor, he condescendingly reassured us that it wasn’t our fault. The meaning was implicit: we, the student body, had collectively screwed up. All of these factors were likely equal contributors to the mayhem that ensued that night, but Uvin constantly placed the emphasis on the culpability of Amherst students. Over and over, we were told that we were not free from what happened. Yes, it is true. We weren’t innocent, but we weren’t sole factor. By forcing us to look at some hard-earned truth, the administration hoped to distance itself ,which is frankly impossible,  from blame. During the Q and A, the provost repeatedly reminded us not to bring up the same issues. We’re at an institution with a high turnover rate; we’re bound to run into the same issues if they’re not fixed.

Biddy spoke about the situation next, but the conversation soon devolved into a scolding for the school’s collective drinking. This is dangerous territory to enter. Not all students drink, not all students drink and go out, and not all students drink themselves to oblivion. We’re taught from the get-go that drinking will inevitably be part of our social interactions in college, and it is. Some of us react to living away from home with varying degrees of responsibility as we react to alcohol’s constant presence and sudden availability. But my main concern was how Biddy lectured us on our own capacities to moderate ourselves. The same thread of paternalism that began the initiative of social cups was present in her worry about us blacking out. The school thinks we’re all lonely because we’re Amherst students. Really, isn’t loneliness and how to deal with it an essential part of the college experience? Now, with students’ tacit drinking policies, the school is worried about us, so it takes away the tools that we can harm ourselves with? That wasn’t my concern. I did’t feel like a student whose health is the school’s primary concern. The language Biddy used, “I don’t want to be here when students get trampled. I don’t want to be here when a student dies of alcohol poisoning,” made me feel like a liability. If the school does in fact want to improve, then it should listen to and enact the proposals of several students who made fantastic comments.

But I had the feeling that, no matter how much we offered, our input (whether new or not) would be simply ignored by the administration. I don’t want to be a cynic and believe this. The administration should set a different tone.

We have begun a dialogue, and it’s up to both us and the administration to follow through on it. As voiced by the provost and dean, we’ve spoken about this issue and will continue to speak about this issue ad nauseam. Alcohol policy is not the only pressing issue brought to light by Saturday’s events. I don’t have a right to blackout, but I have a right to have a proper mutually-respectful discussion about the events at our school.

14 comments on “My Right to Blackout

  1. Anonymous
    December 13, 2013

    I’m reminded nearly everyday of the dangers of alcohol abuse by college students because a very close friend’s son, a strapping, 6’2″ Celtic god of an athlete partied one night in his freshmen dorm and got so blind drunk, he fell out of the third story window onto a sidewalk. Physically his body recovered but the brain damage so severely impaired his cognitive skills that he now requires 24/7 supervision lest he wonder off or make decisions endangering his life. So, it may sound patronizing, but the rules, be they from the college, the legal system or your moral/ethical/religious upbringing, are there to protect you until, we can only hope, your brain has, unlike my friend’s son, had the chance to mature and you truly understand internally what taking full responsibility for your life means and accepting the consequences of your actions.

    • Concerned Alumnus
      January 29, 2014

      This has almost no bearing on the issue at hand. Somehow, the college has made it almost 200 years allowing students to make their own decisions without a wave of alcohol-induced fatalities. The social education one receives at Amherst is just as important as the academic one. That’s what has led to the incredibly strong alumni bonds over the years, but that is being threatened because, in short, Amherst is no longer fun. I see it every time I go back. Students dislike the college. They don’t enjoy being there. This is a sea change from just about every class before, oh, three years ago. The absurd drinking policies, intransigent administrative posturing, and overbearing and parochial rhetoric are an undeniable threat to the college’s ability to prepare students for the world beyond – where success is based on interpersonal relationships far more than it is on simple intellectual acuity. Students used to be overwhelmingly positive about the Amherst experience. The last few years, almost every undergrad I speak to goes out of their way to express how much they have disliked their time at Amherst. The cause for this change is obvious.

      Drinking to excess is not good. Fact: students drink to excess more now that the policies are stricter than they did before. Tell someone not to do drink, and go out of your way to penalize those who do, and the result is that students (who, being young, are brash and distrustful of authority) must drink behind closed doors, and drink to excess because they know they can’t do so in Amherst’s public setting. There was a time when Amherst police merely eyed you disapprovingly if they saw you with a beer in your hand, and all you had to do was put it down and walk away. There was a time when alcohol was freely available, and you didn’t have to drink before you went out because kindly upperclassmen made it their duty to ensure freely available alcohol to anyone, should they want it. People who drank very little, or only socially, were allowed to do so alongside those who preferred to drink a lot, and the social sphere was expanded. Now, the message to first year students is that drinking is bad, and dangerous, and criminal, and subject to punitive action. Amherst students are missing out on 50% of the education they were promised.

      Biddy has allowed this to happen. It seems she has actually been one of the primary drivers of action. She has, to this point, been an awful president. Tony Marx was no academic wizard, but he could raise money, and he left the departments to their devices for the most part, he was responsive to student opinions, and he knew that socializing was positive for the college. He drank, socially, with students who were of age. When an English professor was terminated to the detriment of the department, students emailed President Marx en masse imploring him to reverse his decision, and he did. He respected the input of those who are, after all, the reason Amherst College exists. Does anyone get the sense that Biddy would even entertain the idea? She has shown that she knows best, and it’s hurting the college at its most fundamental and important base: student morale.

      • Another concerned alum
        March 14, 2014

        I am another alum and I’d like to offer a different view. I think it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that binge drinking has risen (if indeed it has) as a direct result of more restrictive alcohol policies. Perhaps they are a factor, but the gossip about binge drinking and “pre-gaming” seem to indicate a nation-wide phenomenon, not only restricted to Amherst. The conversation around drinking is difficult, but the fact that something is not working right does not mean we can just go back to “the old days” when beer was practically provided by the college and we laughed off, ignored, or conveniently forgot about dangerous incidents, alcohol poisoning, or various forms of assault. I wish I could believe in the cordial atmosphere of nostalgia but I can’t, not quite. It’s easy to remember the fun drunken times when nothing bad happened. But no matter what the past seemed to be, the present is not the past. Biddy may seem like she is scolding, but the legal landscape is different than it used to be and, frankly, there have to be better ways to deal with social anxiety than alcohol, particularly as a pre-emptive strategy, which strikes me as little more than a collective lack of social courage. Indeed, sober interactions are probably better for long-term emotional development and deepening of relationships. It may have been more “fun” in the old days, but it certainly didn’t help anyone who didn’t already feel comfortable. Lots of folks from the past had a hard time, socially, at Amherst, for a variety of reasons, a fact that probably has less to do with college policy than it does flaws in our society. As for drunken social life being “50%” of an Amherst education, that’s just, well, a shallow and sad (and probably not widely-held) view. As for previous administrators who may have set a more “lubricating” tone, I hear through the grapevine that at least one has decided to stop drinking permanently. This whole debate would benefit from (a) people identifying and de-bunking alcohol-enabling rhetoric and (b) a student culture that took responsibility on its own to understand and promote truly moderate drinking. Bingeing just shouldn’t be cool.

  2. Cecilia Pessoa
    December 13, 2013

    A couple of thoughts:
    1. I’m one of those students who wasn’t at Crossett Christmas and doesn’t go out to parties or drink myself into blackout, and I did not feel scolded by what Biddy said. She was delivering a well deserved reprimand to those whose poor personal decisions put themselves in danger and create a dangerous environment for other students.
    2. The social cups were introduced by students, the SHEs, not anyone in the administration.
    3. If anyone thinks that Biddy doesn’t care about us I have to say that you’re just wrong. She is clearly and understandably frustrated (as am I, and I wouldn’t even be held responsible if/when something really horrible happens).

  3. Anon
    December 13, 2013

    Hey Lilia. Thanks for writing this article, I’m sure it resonates with plenty of people on campus. I think we can all agree that the problem is not the people who responsibly use alcohol as a social lubricant, but the people who binge-drink and those who glorify it. I wonder how many of those people have ever been to a wake of someone their own age. I have been, twice. Once, it was a car accident, and another time it was alcohol related. It’s the most depressing situation I’ve been in. I feel that because of these experiences, I understand where the administration is coming from more so than where students who feel entitled to binge-drinking. I stopped going out as often because, every time, I would constantly wonder if my friends were okay, or were going to be okay later in the night. It’s a lot of pressure and I cannot fathom what it would feel like to wonder the same about the entire student body every single weekend. Anyway, just wanted to advocate for a bit of a perspective change on the issue.

  4. Anonymous
    December 13, 2013

    I think that Biddy was speaking to her frustration with the Amherst drinking culture which seems to provide students license to intoxicate themselves to the point that they endanger their safety and the safety of others. I think that those among the student body that choose to drink irresponsibly time and again deserve to be scolded. If they want to be treat as mature adults, then they ought to act like mature adults. Respect is to be earned not demanded. Honestly, I have more respect now for Biddy than at any other point for calling us out on our unacceptable behavior. Sure there were many factors that contributed to the chaos on Crossett Christmas, but it is undeniable that the single most important and dangerous factor was extreme intoxication on the part of Amherst students.

    In regard to the Social Cup initiative, I think it was a well-intentioned attempt to move in the direction of facilitating contact between different social groups on campus. A little paternalism is not always a bad thing. Its ultimate failure has more to say about the potency of the Amherst Awkward and social divisions on campus than anything else. I think you juvenile reaction to Biddy’s remarks only serves to validate the paternalism you say she demonstrated.

  5. canderson13
    December 13, 2013

    Would someone mind explaining what happened at Crossett Christmas and why the meeting was called on Tuesday?

  6. Ryan Arnold
    December 13, 2013

    Lilia, I’m lost as to what the argument of this post is. Are you criticizing the administration’s response to the riots? Are you commending the administration’s response? You seem to say both repeatedly throughout the article, sometimes within the same paragraph.

    “The manner in which the administration presented its policies at the meeting on Tuesday night was condescending, vague, and paternalistic (or rather maternalistic on Biddy’s part). I’d like to commend Biddy for addressing us on the issue of blacking out. It’s entitlement to think we have the right to constantly put ourselves in a dangerous state and to ask the school to permit us to do so.”

    There are points where it sounds as if you’re blaming the administration for what happened, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Regardless, if you are directing blame toward the administration, you don’t specify what you’re blaming them for. It feels careless and inopportune. “By forcing us to look at some hard-earned truth, the administration hoped to distance itself ,which is frankly impossible, from blame.” Blame for what? What truth did we hardly earn? I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think this is a salient critique of the administration.

    You write: “Really, isn’t loneliness and how to deal with it an essential part of the college experience? Now, with students’ tacit drinking policies, the school is worried about us, so it takes away the tools that we can harm ourselves with?” I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find people in the world who’ll agree with you that binge-drinking is a good way to deal with loneliness. I think the sort of loneliness characteristic of Amherst is in part caused by the nihilistic, joyless binge-drinking that you’re defending.

    “I did’t feel like a student whose health is the school’s primary concern. The language Biddy used, “I don’t want to be here when students get trampled. I don’t want to be here when a student dies of alcohol poisoning,” made me feel like a liability.”
    This is maybe the most absurd contradiction in the article. Earlier, you condemn President Martin for her condescending pa(/ma-)ternalism — in the context of her address, this refers to her “mama bear”-like impulse to protect her students; here, you condemn her for apparently not being concerned or involved enough in your well-being. So what’s your target?

    On a somewhat-related note, from an insurance standpoint, all students are liabilities to their colleges. That’s why states require college students to have health insurance as a prerequisite for enrollment.
    I wish that this article had been better concentrated; there’s so much to say about the Crossett fiasco, and this kind of clumsy critique isn’t what I think will help.

    • Lilia Paz
      December 14, 2013

      Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for reading this. I’d like to bring up something that was said at the meeting at Thursday night. We spoke about the culture of silence that exists here at Amherst and why at dialogues such as Thursday’s meeting people don’t speak up. I, for one, hate speaking in front of crowds, that’s why I’m a writer. And you’re right, maybe I’m not the best person to address this issue but I felt really passionately about it and as a student I have a right to my opinion. Now I hope that by speaking with other students and staff, I can improve my own perception.
      My argument is flawed but I left the meeting with a lot of mixed feelings. I thought Biddy was correct in addressing overdrinking but the manner in which she addressed it was what I found fault with. It seemed like a scolding a parent would give to a child. The whole speech seemed like a wagging finger. I realize I misunderstood, this later comment,” don’t want to be here when students get trampled…” You’re right. We are liabilities and we should be held responsible for our drinking. I agree that we should own up to our destructive behavior.
      “Really, isn’t loneliness and how to deal with it an essential part of the college experience? Now, with students’ tacit drinking policies, the school is worried about us, so it takes away the tools that we can harm ourselves with?” This part I badly articulated. Unfortunately in dealing with loneliness, a lot of people turn to alcohol. Which isn’t to say that only sad people drink or that people don’t have other coping mechanisms. Drinking is a horrible way to cope but many people think they need to drink heavily before going out and socializing. We should address why we can’t seem to survive Saturday night without alcohol in our blood-but also without completely banning alcohol.

    • Anonymous
      December 18, 2013

      You’re an editor for AC Voice. Shouldn’t you have made these comments BEFORE the article was posted?

      • Liya Rechtman
        December 18, 2013

        We work on a peer editing system and not all editors edit each writers piece before it goes up. Also, different editors and writers have different opinions. We are multiple, dialectical, contrasting and contradicting voices of Amherst, not a single one.

  7. Cuncel Da ACVoice
    December 13, 2013

    One article and three comments by four people who clearly were not out on Crossett Christmas and have no idea what happened. I bet you think we go to a really hardcore party school and Xset Xmas was the craziest thing ever. You guys think you have a feel for what Amherst is, but you really have no idea…

    CUNCEL DA VOICE

    CUNCEL DA CROSSETT

    CUNCEL DA CHRISTMAS

    CUNCEL DA COLLEGE

    CUNCEL DA SCHOOL YEAR

    • Anonymous
      December 13, 2013

      This comment was too #hardcore for me to handle.

  8. Christian
    January 13, 2014

    Great post, Lilia!

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This entry was posted on December 12, 2013 by in Amherst College Losses and tagged , , .
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