The University sends mixed messages on drinking
by Carly Hill
photography by Christopher Guzman
Since the establishment of the University of La Verne in 1891 in association with the Church of the Brethren, alcohol has not been allowed on campus for residential hall consumption by students, even those of legal drinking age. Yet, while the school may have a “dry campus” policy, that does not mean that drinking does not occur. Those walking the campus early on a Sunday morning may see the empty remains of a clandestine residential hall keg party or a furtive margarita gathering.
“In early days, the alcohol policy developed out of respect to the Church and its traditions,” says Steve Morgan, former president of the University of La Verne. “The Church of the Brethren recommended to abstain from alcohol.” The policy is still in effect 120 years later, with minor alterations. “Part of keeping the policy is tradition and heritage, but another part is the research we have done,” Morgan says. “Damage rates rise dramatically when alcohol is present, as well as acts of violence and sexual assault.” Nevertheless, in 2009 modifications to the historically strict no alcohol anywhere on campus policy came after the completion of the University’s Campus Center. The new policy, drafted by Chip West, senior director of Central Planning, and Clark Hitt, director of Risk Management, gives specific guidelines to serve alcohol on campus. “When we were looking at the design of the Campus Center, many outside community organizations and government agencies were looking to us for a place to hold events, and many times those events have a cash bar,” West says. “The time was right to see whether our policies fit our needs, and the outcome was the change in the policy,” West says. Currently, only beer and wine may be consumed on campus for rental, alumni and special events. Organizations that wish to have an event with alcohol must first submit an alcohol permit form to be approved by the University and must meet state regulations. Although the policy only specifies alcohol at the new Campus Center and Hanawalt House, the wording is open, and the policy can be open to accommodate many other locations at the University, except the residence halls.
Drinking, however, is allowed for students at school-sponsored events staged off campus, such as the Winter Formal, “since before 1985,” says Morgan. “I think it is a little hypocritical that alcohol is served off campus, but not on,” says Brandon Flath, freshman biology major.
“When we built the Campus Center and remodeled the Hanawalt House, we developed a policy so alcohol can be on campus if protocol is followed,” Morgan says. “Under certain circumstances, alcohol is served.” He says the policy alterations are a big step. “It’s a transitional time for us, and I can’t really predict if La Verne will become a wet campus. But never say ‘never.’” West sees the changed policy as beneficial to the University. “By changing our policy, it says we are evolving, moving forward and willing to adapt and change. I think it is a positive forum to expand venues and to earn more money for the school through holding events.”
Loretta Rahmani, dean of students, is not in support of a residence hall policy change, “This past year, there have been more alcohol related hospitalizations than in the last 20 years. There has been a spike in alcohol poisonings. I understand social drinking, but we are getting to the level of blackouts and unconsciousness. However, I do see value for outside groups or fundraising opportunities because we live in a wine-and-dine culture. And we want to have wedding receptions, and often they request a bar.”
Despite the relaxing of the policy, alcohol is not served on campus for student events. The alcohol policy at the University of La Verne has become a challenge for students who reside on campus, especially those who are over the legal 21 drinking age. “Compared to state schools and UCs, we have less alcohol violations, but being a dry campus, we still have students going to the emergency room, and incidents are on the rise,” Rahmani says.
“I think that if you are of age, you should be able to drink in the dorms,” counters Eric Hernandez, 21, sophomore math major. “If my friends want to go out, and no one wants to be the designated driver, we could get in an accident that could have been avoided if we were on campus.” Hernandez has been written up for drinking on campus, and now chooses to go to off campus locations such as T. Phillips Alehouse and Grill in downtown La Verne. “It’s a lot more expensive to drink off campus,” he says. “I could buy a 30 pack of beer for the price of one drink at T. Phillips.” Andres Cardenas, 21 year-old international studies major, agrees that purchasing alcohol at bars drains his finances. “I also think that being allowed to drink would improve social life on campus and help students to be less afraid and intimidated.” Justine Coyle, a 21 year-old biology major, says that although she does not often drink, allowing drinking on campus to people of age could help with school-associated alcohol problems. “I feel the Brethren Church is not really connected to the University anymore, so we shouldn’t have to live with its rules.” Coyle says that if she could drink on campus, she would. “The campus started off dry, but the times have changed,” she says. “College students are different these days.”
Students who live on campus are not allowed to drink in their dorm rooms, period. To be caught can cost one her housing contract, says housing director Juan Regalado. “I think it would be naïve to say that drinking doesn’t happen,” he says. “But being able to take care of yourself is key. If you come home drunk and are angry or upset, we take that as a concern.” Says Morgan, “Alcohol in moderation is acceptable, but college students tend to overuse, rather than having a couple of drinks to relax.” For a first alcohol-related offense, an incident report is filed by a resident assistant, followed by the removal of the alcohol by a Campus Safety employee. Following, the student must have a meeting with a University official to discuss what happened and why the incident occurred. This person assigns punitive action. The student is usually put on probation plus the student could be recommended to a therapist. If multiple students were involved, the director may plan a program for the residence hall floor on the dangers of alcohol. Non-residents are still subject to alcohol violations. If caught on campus at an alcohol party, citations are issued. ”I always look for the point of choice. When could you leave? Maybe you don’t know your limits,” Rahmani says.
“If the student repeats the offense, the stakes increase,” Regalado says. “But it may only take one incident report before a student loses his housing contract if the incident is severe enough. Having worked at wet campuses, I have seen that DUI convictions and assaults are greater. It seems that the people who do engage in driving under the influence of alcohol are possibly in denial of a drinking problem, and should not be drinking on campus anyway.”
La Verne’s dry campus policy contrasts with the Claremont College consortium. All (Pomona, Scripps, Claremont-McKenna and Pitzer) allow students to drink alcohol on campus if they are 21. Nevertheless, for now, Rahmani has the last word regarding alcohol at La Verne. “Having a wet campus makes everything a lot more messy. If 21 and over can drink, we need to card everyone, and putting RAs in that position adds another level of complexity that we can’t handle with our current staffing.”
Sister school alcohol policies
The University of La Verne, founded by the Church of the Brethren, which continues a strong stand on not drinking alcohol, has three sister schools—Manchester (Indiana), Juniata (Pennsylvania) and Elizabethtown (Pennsylvania)—that allow limited student drinking on their campuses. McPherson College, (Kansas), Bridgewater College (Virginia) and La Verne remain as dry campuses.