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The "luge" pictured above left was from an old fraternity Web page several years ago that has since been unpublished.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.