a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
May 15, 2002:
More musings on alcohol at Princeton
The older I get, the more I become convinced
that the best form of government is a system derived from one rule:
Do what you want, so long as you're not a pain in the ass. This
rule applies particularly neatly to college life, which is subject
to its own particular set of pressures and constraints; namely that
most college students are hopelessly pack-oriented, self-absorbed,
and generally foolish. I know that I spent most of my four years
at Princeton in a haze of benign idiocy, a condition that I would
lament if I weren't convinced it was a necessary phase of my development.
I think of the pain-in-the-ass rule every time I read something
about the alcohol situation on the Princeton campus. It's a curious
situation, alcohol at Princeton. I often find myself writing about
it, yet my feelings about my experience as an undergraduate are
mixed. Sometimes, to paraphrase W.C. Fields, I think that Princeton
drove me to drink, and I never even had the courtesy to thank it.
But other times, when I read some statistic or story about life
on campus, I wonder why Princeton continues to blindly bear the
costs of undergraduate drinking.
The most obvious cost, of course, is the occasional undergraduate
who drinks far too much, does something stupid, and then sues. It's
happened before; it's going to happen again. This last Houseparties
weekend, 10 undergraduates drank themselves so silly that they ended
up in either McCosh Health Center or the local hospitals. Surprise.
This happens every Houseparties weekend. It happens most Initiations
weekends. It sometimes happens on Canadian Flag Day. At some point
another kid's going to end up in front of a car or brain dead. That's
just statistics. And those statistics are why Princeton and all
its affiliate organizations eating clubs, for example
carry such high insurance premiums, which are essentially a transfer
of Princeton's resources from the innocent to the stupid.
Second, binge drinkers negatively affect the quality of life for
other students on campus. Call me a loser for raising the issue,
call a kid who wants to study rather than party a dork, but that's
the fact, Jack. According to a recent campus study, 38 percent of
students have had their living space "messed up" by binge
drinkers, 34 percent have had studying interrupted, and 19 percent
of students feel physically unsafe. On the other side of the equation,
12.6 percent of drinkers admit they have damaged property while
under the influence.
I worry when friends of mine who work in
secondary schools tell me that a lot of smart, focused students
drop Princeton off their lists because they worry about the social
life. A school with as many academic resources to offer talented
kids shouldn't have to worry about driving away anyone.
But the most worrying fact about Princeton
and alcohol is the incredibly efficient job the university does
at turning non-drinkers into drinkers. According to the 1998 Core
Survey, 71 percent of the freshmen who arrive on the Princeton campus
have consumed alcohol fewer than six times per year. Those statistics
quickly change on campus. Forty-six percent of current Princeton
students binge drink (using an admittedly debatable definition of
"binge" drinking), 83 percent drink, and 97 percent feel
that the social atmosphere promotes alcohol abuse.
That dramatic swing is probably why so many
students are so bad at handling alcohol; they simply don't have
enough experience to understand the line between drinking and blind,
stinking, urinate-on-your-roommate drunk. And since the university
usually doesn't provide any consequences for the latter, is it any
surprise that so many students act so badly?
The statistics I've used in this column were
compiled by Brian
Muegge '05, who is on a campaign to have the university institute
substance-free dorms. I've always thought that substance-free dorms
are a way evading the problem part of going to college is
living with a wide variety of people but given that Princeton
can't or won't inflict consequences on kids who insist on being
a pain in the ass, it seems like a logical first step. No kid who
actually wants to work on a Thursday night should ever be even slightly
inconvenienced by someone who wants to party.
Princeton is an alcohol-laden institution. It always has been, and
I admit that I was a sometimes-enthusiastic participant while I
was an undergraduate. But I have to admit that I grow more and more
confused as to why the university is so reluctant to aggressively
support the students who actually want to use its superior resources.
The right to be a dumbass isn't engraved in either the Constitution
or Princeton's Right, Rules and Responsibilities; it's time that
the university started holding its student accountable for what
they do at 2:00 a.m. on a Thursday night.
You can reach Wes at email@example.com