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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Ice Luge: Let it slide?

When a fraternity member asked ARAMARK dining staff what they charge for an ice luge, the staff did what they are supposed to. They told me. I affirmed their answer: No - we won't make a block of ice with rivulets to add a sporting element to doing shots. Upon follow-up, the student clarified to Greek Life staff that the request was for an ice sculpture, not a drinking device. Whatever. The real question is, should we even care about this at all? (Weigh in at the poll to the upper right.)

The "luge" pictured above left was from an old fraternity Web page several years ago that has since been unpublished. When I was a college student I would have wanted an ice bobsled. The reaction to the recent request isn't about prudish denial of someone's fun. It is about safety and responsibility and control (or our lack of it). Really, this isn't about the luge. It is about looking at an old issue that needs handling once and for all so we stop going over old ground. Or ice.

As the Greek Council and the administration look at the issues of off-campus events with alcohol, however, the underlying question is how far should the reach of the campus extend. It is the University that is initiating this conversation. By policy, we have the right to deal with off-campus behavior. But frankly, I am tired of the friction created by parties that sometimes put students at risk and require staff time to investigate -- and be lied to. Maybe there is no incentive to tell the truth - and that's on us. Usually, we learn of the events because something bad happens back on campus following an unregistered loosely monitored event. So, we are left with responding to groups only when something bad happens. That confounds our students, who see that approach as unfair. The incentive for them is to cover-up bad things. We want the opposite. We want to help when things go south. But we want honesty too.

On GreekTalk an alum recently lamented that it is impossible for the University to monitor the behavior of 18-21 year-olds off campus and we should stop trying. I couldn't agree more. The law compels us to care, as do the attorneys of families when bad things happen to their kids. Still, the same law that says we have foreseeable risk is indifferent when deputies from the county are paid to keep gate-crashers out of parties. This while underage drinking happens under their noses.

We know that turning a blind eye puts us at risk. We also know that close monitoring doesn't work. In the meantime, students want clarity. They want to know what makes a party a party and what makes an activity a club event or a personal one.

A student sub-committee is to make recommendations in the next week or so. I hope those recs go as far as I want them to. For one thing, the administration (me) can't have it both ways. If events are group-sponsored at homes off campus, we can't sometimes decide they are private events and sometimes group activities, all based on whether or not a problem arises. There are challenges to be sure. When neighbors are disrupted I get the call and the issue is that they can't believe the behavior of our students. We should care about that. But should we act?

For another thing, we need to be all in or all out regarding our philosophy that "we care deeply about student health and safety." In other words, in the spirit of what our Greek consultant suggested earlier this fall, we need to do the right thing. That may mean whatever happens with the law and liability will happen. It happens anyway.

What I foresee from the students, is a statement with guidelines on what constitutes a group event versus a private event. We have provisions for students to host lawful events with alcohol for those of age. If groups don't choose that option, then they are responsible for what happens in privately-owned residences. We have never been able to control those parties and never will. But we can and should go a step further in helping educate our students at-large about alcohol, personal, and sexual safety when they do what college students do. But does that increase our liability? Do we care? Extending the responsible friend (Good Samaritan) policy off campus and to groups may also be a good place to start.

The ice luge, however, represents our biggest challenge. If we care about student health and safety, then shouldn't we investigate when we suspect a block of ice will be used to expedite the drinking of hard alcohol? Or should we know that this will happen anyways, maybe at another house on another weekend, whether we accidentally learn of a luge or not? Maybe we should coach them on why the luge isn't safe and leave it at that. The question is indeed a slippery one.


Anonymous said...

I find it insulting that most of the drinking issues are directed towards Greeks. Yes, most greek organizations do have parties that in some way involve alcohol (Men and Women). However, nothing is addressed about the sports teams that have parties. If the argument is "Greeks are an organized and manageable body of students" then aren't the athletes as well? They have much more at risk when it comes to violating the codes of their teams and coaches. Although some or most of the Women's teams have strict no alcohol policies that are diligently followed by its members, many of the Men's teams do not and have parties off-campus that have just as much underage drinking and drunk driving as any other party. Also groups like the theater department have parties but it doesn't seem to bother CCI, even though they are in charge of ALL organized groups on campus. If it is decided to hammer down on Greeks drinking at parties, you can bet that they will use these other organizations as outlets for having parties until something is done about them as well. Just because a student body is organized does not mean it should be made an example of, only to realize that there isn't anyone who will follow the newly found regulations.

David Tuttle said...

Thanks. I should have noted that anything we design will have implications for all campus groups, not just Greeks. The emphasis on Greeks is because of my goal to improve relatiopnships between Greeks and administrators. (See the Greek Web page Voice Thread that offers a fuller explanation.) I think we are making positive head-way and having the alumni ask to be included certainly helps. If it wasn't clear, please know that what I am suggesting is less hammering down (your words) no pun intended. What we have been doing simply feeds some of the anger you are reflecting. We can do better.

Anonymous said...

What is Aramark doing creating ice sculptures in the first place for students for whatever reason, and why would the students ask them except to excite, confuse, and distract the administration and sit back and have a good laugh at their expense. Let It Slide. The issue will disappear on its own.

The Kemps said...

I understand your dilemma, particularly as an alum of a Greek organization and soon to be mom. I think as soon as students involved ARAMARK in this instance, they involved the administration.

David Tuttle said...

Okay. I need to edit this post. The ice luge is just a metaphor for off campus alcohol related activity. I don't care about the luge... Apologies.

Anonymous said...


Yes, alcohol and the behavior that comes with it is not an issue unique to members of Greek organizations. It is an issue that applies to everyone on campus, including those who are not students. Yes, the issues in your post take too much time and energy on campus.

For me, your post is not "new news" but rather a painful reminder of my undergrad days at Trinity. Although my circle of friends included many that were not affiliated with a campus group, I am a proud Gamma who was tapped and humbled to be named an honorary Chi Beta in my senior year.

To this day I can still remember the names, faces, and voices of friends who suffered a life altering disability or lost their life as a result of an alcohol related incident.

For my entire four years at Trinity, not a single semester or summer went by without my sitting in a hospital waiting room, in a memorial service on campus or in at funeral of one of my fellow students. Although one is too many, most semesters there were more than life altering event or death.

As a member of the GAAC, your blog is one of the ways to stay "connected." I struggled with what to post, the words just wouldn't come - and then I remembered something Dean Grissom had talked to us about in the late 1960's. She said something similar years later (1991) when shared with Greek Alums her written comments to students after a series of alcohol related events on campus: "All I can tell you is what I hope you already know: When something goes wrong, when the party gets so loud that neighbors call the police, when someone gets hurt or - God help us - someone dies because of your deliberate, knowing violation of the reasonable policies and laws, you have to live with your responsibility for that. You have to live with what that means for you as a person and for what it means to the organizations and individuals that are important to you."

On more than one occasion, we have all been told what I hope we already know. My hope is that we remember Coleen's words as we move forward in this process.

Betty Rider
BA 1970, MSHCAD 1985

Anonymous said...

Going by what Betty Rider says, the alcohol related issues at Trinity today are peanuts.

Anonymous said...

Give me a break. What Greeks have is an infrastructure which makes organizing parties more effective and more efficient. The millions of independents on campus have millions more parties under no banner to speak of. So give me a break! Grreks drink and no one else? What about ROTC units? Dorm clubs? Atheletic groups and their camp followers? The list goes on and on. Take it from a drunk, I can find a party anywhere without worrying about a label.

Anonymous said...

I have to say as a student here that I completely agree with you and the alum. I think the best idea Trinity has going for them is the Good Samaritan/responsible friend policy, but I was very surprised that it doesn't already extend to off campus events and groups. If honesty is what the administration is looking for then that is a great place to start. Also in regards to safety I feel that awareness and then hands off is the most effective policy for the university. Students are going to do what they want regardless of anything, and if the university tries to stick a hand in off campus parties then people are just going to get more creative in hiding parties which in my experiences is where most bad incidents stem from. In a perfect world (as an independent) I would love nothing more then to stay in my dorm room and drink with my friends, which is, in my opinion, by far the safest place for students to be drinking as it involves no driving. but as several RA's and RM's have pointed out over the years I'm not allowed to till I'm 21. So what do I do, get in a car, drive to a party and hope my DD doesn't drink (me and my friends usually dont have $20 a night to shell out for a cab), that nothing goes wrong and that I make it home safe. Also that quote in the post above by Dean Grissom is really good.

Anonymous said...

Just to make one thing clear to everyone is that Aramark and other dinning services contracted with other colleges do make available Ice Luges/Sculptures for students to buy. I have been to other college parties that bought giant ice luges from the dinning company at their college.

Another thing is Trinity U's party scene is non existent compared to the majority of colleges out there. It would rank near the bottom if they actually put out that statistic. Take away the few parties there is and soon you will find enrollment down because as it is the social life is already not very good. Social life is a factor when students decide on their final choice for what college to attend.

If you want to stop people from over drinking than crack down on dorm drinking. Students (especially freshman) pregame hard in their dorms and sometimes show up to a party already blacked out.
But you know it is easier to blame the party and not the person's choice to drink.

It is sad that no one takes responsibility for their own actions and has to come up with excuses/blame other people for their dumb mistakes.