Last week’s open forum about the “drinking culture” at The University was a healthy discussion, but we need to make sure we really walk through the doors it supposedly opened for further conversation.
The forum allowed people to say what they’ve been saying for some time now. Some said more or better campus events that offer alternatives to alcohol-related activities might mitigate the drinking culture. Others said the drinking culture is the same here as at other American colleges and suggested it’s an inevitable part of college life right now.
As she has many times before, Anitra McShea, Ph.D., vice provost for Student Formation & Campus Life, reminded students that off-campus houses, the Hill Section, and the City of Scranton are their homes. She asked why we’re okay with defining Parade Day as a day of excessive drinking that contradicts our culture of service, scholarship and community. Dean of Students Barbara King said she and her colleagues genuinely love their students.
I view Scranton as my home, and I believe King and McShea really love us. However, this is not a new discussion, and I’m not convinced it is a productive one at this time.
The forum also tried to discuss the problems that result from the drinking culture. The primary concern of administrators, faculty and staff is student safety, but that did not seem to be at the heart of the discussion. The Rev. Richard Malloy, S.J., University chaplain and interim director of Campus Ministries, pointed out that when students act out as a result of alcohol and put themselves in danger, administrators and staff are held more responsible than ever. McShea pointed out that high-risk drinking and a party culture damage The University’s reputation.
These are real problems that we should openly discuss and address; however, these are not the most pressing problems.
A drinking culture, here and elsewhere, is most problematic when it cultivates a rape culture; when it threatens students’ lives; when it damages physical and mental health; when it tears apart friendships and healthy relationships; when it allows a marketplace of illegal drugs to thrive in a community that is otherwise kind, hardworking and ethical.
With events like Take Back the Night approaching, discussions about sexual assault and related concerns will certainly occur, which is essential, and I’m sure some of those discussions will include discussion of alcohol. Nevertheless, we need to stop being afraid of discussing sensitive topics within their larger contexts. We need to discuss the alcohol culture beyond the superficial level.
While I care deeply about this university’s employees and reputation, it’s time we thought about deeper, darker consequences of the drinking culture.
April 17, 2015