Lehigh Student Senate’s annual campus-wide formal doubled as the first event in a pilot program being developed to allow students of age to consume alcohol at campus functions.
“The thought process behind serving alcohol at the Gatsby Gala was that it would attract (upperclassmen) students and faculty who might not have attended the event otherwise,” Student Senate Vice President Anna D’Ginto, ’16, said. “Student Senate hoped that this would be a unifying event for the entire Lehigh community, and faculty and staff make up an important part of that community.”
After many requests from student organizations that were not affiliated with Greek life to have alcohol at campus events, a small group of staff members from offices such as the Office of General Counsel, Risk Management, Conference Services, Auxiliary Services, Student Activities, Student Center Facilities and the Dean of Students Office met to explore the feasibility of this request.
“The Student Affairs division as a whole is committed to working with faculty, staff, and students across campus to reduce binge drinking and encourage the healthy, responsible use of alcohol among students,” said Allison Gulati, the associate dean of students and director of Strategic Initiatives.
One of the reasons behind this initiative is for health and safety reasons. As of right now, most social events are held in off-campus houses that are not prepared to handle the number of people in attendance. This group of staff members and Student Senate representatives believe that being able to find a location that can hold a significant amount of people safely, and being able to regulate what alcohol is served and to whom will help overall safety in alcohol consumption.
“Student Senate is working to encourage safe drinking on campus by organizing fun events that facilitate healthy consumption of alcohol,” D’Ginto said. “For example, at the Gatsby Gala a three drink limit was imposed, which ensured that students of age could enjoy themselves while having an alcoholic beverage.”
Gulati said another reason these groups joined together was to begin a program that allows students of all backgrounds and experiences to connect with each other and enjoy themselves socially, while the healthy and moderate consumption of alcohol is presented.
As of right now, the only groups on campus that are allowed to have events with alcohol are fraternities. It is the goal of this group of staff and students to expand this to other groups to create a more inclusive setting.
“I would attend on campus events that provided alcohol to students,” Max DeZarn, ’16, said. “I believe the university can work together with the Student Senate, and other student groups, in order to ensure that the event is done well so that it can be fun and safe for all who attend.”
“It is no secret across the country that underage, unhealthy use of alcohol is a major issue,” Gulati said. “As long as that is the case, there are also issues at any social event, whether it is on or off campus and is registered or unregistered, with underage students or students with less experience with alcohol making poor decisions about the amount of alcohol their body can handle, (for example) pre-gaming and not realizing how it is affecting them until it is too late.”
According to the pilot proposal, there are some requirements that are needed to make this program effective. Some of these ideas include getting approval from the Campus Event Advisory Group, getting locations on campus designated by Lehigh University Police Department, such as Lamberton Hall, and securing transportation to and from the event.
There are some concerns, however, about having events such as these. According to the proposal, currently student organizations recognized by Student Senate are not allowed to spend their funds on alcohol due to their guidelines. Staff in the Dean of Students Office plan to talk to Student Senate in the spring to address their ideas regarding their funding guidelines with regard to this issue.
Another problem that this group of staff and students encountered is that in order for a program like this to work, it involves some changes in administrative social policy, and also changes in the way that students approach their drinking behaviors.
“We can adjust policies and provide venues for campus events with alcohol, and we can require some additional elements such as social host training (and) event security,” Gulati said. “After that, the outcomes, both positive and negative, are up to the students hosting the events (and) attending the events.”
After the pilot period is over, the proposal states that these dedicated staff members and students will go review each event and observe if they had reached their goals of encouraging on-campus social life, offering safe events where alcohol can be consumed, and increasing students’ perception of equity of different student groups on campus.
“Students have more influence on their peers than any other group on-campus,” Gulati said. “Lehigh students are incredibly smart and if they want to see a healthier, more positive campus-based social environment, I have no doubt that we can work together to make it happen.”