Campus taps into drinking debate

86 per cent of first-year students underage at start of year

TAPS Head Manager Ian Anderson said StuCons will scan student IDs at the AMS pubs’ doors.
TAPS Head Manager Ian Anderson said StuCons will scan student IDs at the AMS pubs’ doors.

Chris Groten, ArtSci ’09, arrived at Queen’s just two weeks ago, but he already feels he’s missing out on part of university life.

The 18-year-old hasn’t yet reached Ontario’s age of majority.

“It sucks,” he said. “You are the only ones not supposed to [drink], but it’s part of the university culture.”

With most of the class of 2009 underage, Groten is not alone. As of Sept. 1, 86 per cent of first-year students were under the age of 19, according to Rebecca Mezciems, assistant to the University Registrar.

Owen Skipper-Horton, ArtSci ’09 and also 18, said the province’s drinking age limits his social life.

“It seems like an inconvenience at times,” he said. “When friends go to the bar, you’re stuck.”

But not being old enough to drink doesn’t mean students are banned from campus bars.

For the fourth year in a row, the AMS has spearheaded an initiative to cater to this younger demographic.

Called the All-Ages Access (AAA) program, it allows underage students to register with the Commission of Internal Affairs to gain access to Clark Hall Pub, the QP and Alfie’s on specified nights.

This year, the AMS has sought once again to improve the program.

“The All-Ages Access allows undergraduate, underage students into on-campus bars on designated nights where there is alcohol served where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so,” explained Adrienne Smith, AMS commissioner of internal affairs.

Alec Donaldson, ConEd ’09, said he enjoys the program.

“I guess [AAA] is good because you can get into [campus bars],” he said. “It’s better than sneaking in.”

The AMS had previously used a sticker to identify registered students, but this year it purchased scanning devices to check ID at the doors of Alfie’s and the QP.

“The [scanners] are actually for general use, for checking all licenses to allow everybody in,” Smith said.

She added the scanners are attractive because they can also process student cards.

The scanners are uploaded with a list of all AAA member information, Smith said.

“When a student card is swiped, a little [message] ... shows that, yes, the [student with the] name on the student card has signed up for the program,” she said. “So that’s why we don’t need the stickers anymore.” Scanners are not yet in use at Clark Hall Pub, which is run by the Engineering Society.

“We couldn’t afford them,” said Brad Jewson, Clark head manager. “Underage students sign a contract, [and] their name is in a database that prints off names and student numbers of the people who sign up. If they come out, we look for them.”

Jewson said AAA is important for Clark.

“All-Ages Access allows us to be a service to the students, which is why we are here,” he said.

TAPS Head Manager Ian Anderson said the logistics of allowing underage students into campus pubs can be complex.

“Because we cater to all students—all undergraduate students of the AMS—we are put into the position [in] which we have an interesting dilemma,” he said. “We are in the business of selling alcohol and obviously, we run two establishments that do sell [alcohol].

“However, we do want to strike the balance in terms of what we can offer students ... we want to make sure we are offering that space—that student space—to a more diverse crowd and that increasingly young population.”

Despite measures instituted to prevent violations of the program, students still find ways to break the rules, Smith said.

“We do have cases,” she said. “[Underage students] get X’s on their hands ... and if they are caught with a drink in their hand, that’s easy. “All the violations do go straight to [Judicial Committee].”

Last school year, eight students were brought to the Judicial Committee or JComm after violating rules at the TAPS pubs, said JComm Chair Steven Dickie.

Jewson said there were no violations at Clark.

With the campus-wide program, the issue of drinking age has surfaced for discussion.

During a Feb. 3, 2005 meeting of EngSoc, a motion was passed adding a clause about drinking age to part of the Society’s External Representation Policy.

“The Engineering Society believes that the Province of Ontario should lower its legal drinking age to 18,” the clause states.

EngSoc President Chris Zabaneh said the Society is not currently lobbying for the change.

“It’s something we were discussing over the summer as an idea,” he said. “Over the summer we didn’t have the time or resources to focus on that, and we had other issues pertaining directly to the society that we had to focus on.

“It’s something we believe in, and still something we would like to talk with the AMS about and have the AMS bring to OUSA.”

Zabaneh said the idea of a lowered drinking age appeals to him, but it’s not a pressing concern for him because of AAA.

“The reason why it’s important to the Engineering Society is because, of course, we run a pub,” he said. “And it’s a home for all engineering students and it is all-ages, so that all students can still go there.”

Groten said he would support a campus organization lobbying the issue on his behalf.

“I think it would relieve some tension,” he said. “I think we are 18 years old and adults ... I don’t see much difference between 18 and 19-year-olds in maturity.”

Anderson agreed, but said he had reservations.

“It would provide us with greater flexibility,” he said. “I want to make sure that simply lowering the drinking age doesn’t lead people to going overboard.”

Jewson also said he is supportive of lowering the drinking age for the added clientele and the profits it could bring Clark.

The additional number of students who could legally drink if the age was changed to 18 doesn’t make Smith question the future of the program.

“I would imagine if they only lowered it by one year we’d have half the members, maybe a quarter of the members signing up,” she said.

“We’d still have it in place, because there are some 17-year-olds here, probably even a small percentage of even younger [students], so we’d still want to have it for those who are 17.”

Smith said she thinks an increase in the number of legal drinkers would decrease the number of program violations.

“I would assume we’d have less cases just because it’s only one age group as opposed to two,” she said. “The majority [of AAA violators] are 18-year-olds, I am almost certain.”

Anderson said regardless of the drinking age, his mandate is to create a positive experience within the campus pubs.

“It means having a safe environment in which you feel comfortable, in which the patrons are your peers, service staff are your peers and the management happens to be your peers too.

“The most important thing is students [are] serving students.”

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