Drinking in your dorm

Even though it’s frowned upon and illegal, students’ first year of university is often synonymous with underage alcohol consumption

Residence Life coordinator Matthew Brown puts up signs in Victoria Hall reminding students to think before they drink.
Residence Life coordinator Matthew Brown puts up signs in Victoria Hall reminding students to think before they drink.

On Sunday, Sept. 2, hundreds of first-year students will move into residence and begin their experience at Queen’s. Even though most of these students are underage, a large part of this experience may still involve drinking.

The University’s Residence Alcohol Policy forbids people under Ontario’s legal drinking age to consume alcohol, but that hasn’t deterred many students from getting a hold of the banned substance—even if they’re not 19.

Although Kat Keilhauer, ArtSci ’10, said she wasn’t looking to be part of the party scene at the University, she definitely had the means to take apart if she so desired.

“At the beginning of the year my parents took me to the LCBO and stocked me up,” she said. “They didn’t really mind. I have friends whose parents have done that too.”

Keilhauer said the most popular ways for students to acquire beer and liquor are visiting the LCBO with a friend with legal ID, or using services like Dial-a-Bottle.

Jason Campbell, ArtSci ’10, also found Dial-a-Bottle an easy way to get booze.

“If someone who had an ID was making an order, you could just add on to that,” he said.

John Mennie, ArtSci ’07 and a don for two years, agrees services like Dial-a-Bottle are a major concern when it comes to controlling alcohol in residence.

“If the University wanted to crack down, [Dial-a-Bottle] would be the easiest way to start,” he said. “As a don it’s hard to stop them from doing that. If I saw someone legal walking onto the floor with a bunch of beer, I would just let it go at the time and deal with it as it came up later on in the evening if I saw underagers were drinking.” Dons are required to deal with illegal drinking by writing up underage students that are visibly consuming alcohol.

Lee Fisher-Goodchild, health educator with Health, Counselling and Disability Services and co-ordinator of the Campus Observation Room (COR), said it’s harder for the University to crack down than it may seem.

“Because the streets are not Queen’s property—they’re public—we can’t ban services like Dial-a-Bottle from coming to residences,” she said. “It’s hard to catch them. It’s a large-scale and complicated issue, but that shouldn’t be a reason for us to stop trying to find solutions.”

The COR, located in Lower Victoria Hall, is open during Frosh Week and weekends at the beginning of the year.

It’s comprised of student volunteers and staff from the detox centre at Hotel Dieu Hospital. The volunteers monitor students who rank at level one of intoxication. Last year during Frosh week, COR volunteers cared for 15 students who were seriously inebriated.

“Twelve people came to the COR, and three people called in for advice,” Fisher-Goodchild said. “Of those 12 people, two of them required additional services. One was referred to Queen’s First Aid, and an ambulance was called for the other individual where we were concerned a drink had been spiked.”

Although the service is open and available to students, Fisher-Goodchild said often those who would benefit most don’t come in.

“The people we see are actually those that manage to make it to the COR.”

Keilhauer said students often try to take care of each other instead of taking friends to the COR. “When people partied together we always took care of each other afterward,” she said.

Fisher-Goodchild said bringing students to the COR is the safest option.

“At the COR, each shift is supported by trained staff, so we know that we have someone with a certain level of knowledge there,” she said.

While the COR deals with the effects of underage drinking, Mike Reddick, Head Gael for Frosh Week 2007, hopes to help prevent it.

“We want everyone to have fun together, and to be inclusive,” he said. “You don’t have to be drunk to enjoy the events we plan, at all.”

Reddick said Gaels play an important role in reinforcing a dry Frosh Week by taking an oath to remain sober.

“It’s critical. Gaels are meant to serve as role models, or big brothers or sisters to frosh,” he said. “By not drinking, they show you don’t need to drink to have fun. The non-drinking oath has pretty much had a perfect record of being followed.”

Reddick declined to comment on how many Gaels have broken this oath.

Although many Gaels may be diligent about following the rules, it doesn’t mean they absolutely agree with them.

Colin Roberts, ArtSci ’09 and Gael ’06, said one of the reasons he followed the non-drinking oath was because it wasn’t overly invasive.

“If they were like, ‘You can’t drink from the time you get to Kingston until the end of Frosh Week’ or something like that, I would have done it anyway,” he said. “If they had tried to make the rules more constrictive, I’m sure I would have had a problem with them, but they weren’t.”

Roberts added that he thinks other Gaels agree.

“Had they tried to make the rules more constrictive, I’m sure there would have been more instances of rule-breaking by the Gaels.”

According to a study called “Pluralistic Ignorance and Alcohol Use on Campus” published in Volume 64 of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pluralistic ignorance plays a large part in why underage students choose to drink.

Pluralistic ignorance is a psychological state where a person thinks his or her beliefs differ from that of their peers, but their actions are the same. It coincides with widespread misrepresentation of private views—for example, in order to be part of the university community students must engage in a certain level of social drinking.

The study reports that, by believing that others are comfortable with alcohol, students will perpetuate that perceived norm by drinking even if they don’t want to.

Roxy Denniston-Stewart, associate dean of student affairs, said it’s important to initiate conversation about the causes and issues surrounding student drinking.

“It comes back to awareness and understanding of what specifically the issues are,” she said. “Residence in general is really the place where the conversation starts.”

Denniston-Stewart said she doesn’t think alcohol consumption compromises the University’s reputation overall.

“I don’t want to minimize alcohol as an issue, she said. “But I think Queen’s students are incredibly talented. They have a broad array of interests, at extraordinary levels really, and that is the story more than anything else.”

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