My Right to Blackout

“You don’t have a constitutional right to blackout”-You’re right, Biddy. I do not have a God or school-given right to blackout Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or any other day. But it does not mean that these mistakes will not happen. The manner in which the administration presented its policies at the meeting on Tuesday night was condescending, vague, and paternalistic (or rather maternalistic on Biddy’s part). I’d like to commend Biddy for addressing us on the issue of blacking out. It’s entitlement to think we have the right to constantly put ourselves in a dangerous state and to ask the school to permit us to do so.

The meeting began with an overview of what occurred during Crossett Christmas this past Saturday night and early Sunday morning. I’m glad the meeting was called. I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened that night or why additional police force was called. I was especially glad at the turnout the meeting had; here were far more people there than had attended the preceding Reddit event. Provost Uvin began the meeting by laying out several factors that could have contributed to the chaos: the event was heavily publicized on social media, thereby ensuring a high turnout; UMass has passed more restrictive policies, which has encouraged their students to go off-campus for parties; the stair wells were incredibly overcrowded; many people were intoxicated. With each possible factor, he condescendingly reassured us that it wasn’t our fault. The meaning was implicit: we, the student body, had collectively screwed up. All of these factors were likely equal contributors to the mayhem that ensued that night, but Uvin constantly placed the emphasis on the culpability of Amherst students. Over and over, we were told that we were not free from what happened. Yes, it is true. We weren’t innocent, but we weren’t sole factor. By forcing us to look at some hard-earned truth, the administration hoped to distance itself ,which is frankly impossible,  from blame. During the Q and A, the provost repeatedly reminded us not to bring up the same issues. We’re at an institution with a high turnover rate; we’re bound to run into the same issues if they’re not fixed.

Biddy spoke about the situation next, but the conversation soon devolved into a scolding for the school’s collective drinking. This is dangerous territory to enter. Not all students drink, not all students drink and go out, and not all students drink themselves to oblivion. We’re taught from the get-go that drinking will inevitably be part of our social interactions in college, and it is. Some of us react to living away from home with varying degrees of responsibility as we react to alcohol’s constant presence and sudden availability. But my main concern was how Biddy lectured us on our own capacities to moderate ourselves. The same thread of paternalism that began the initiative of social cups was present in her worry about us blacking out. The school thinks we’re all lonely because we’re Amherst students. Really, isn’t loneliness and how to deal with it an essential part of the college experience? Now, with students’ tacit drinking policies, the school is worried about us, so it takes away the tools that we can harm ourselves with? That wasn’t my concern. I did’t feel like a student whose health is the school’s primary concern. The language Biddy used, “I don’t want to be here when students get trampled. I don’t want to be here when a student dies of alcohol poisoning,” made me feel like a liability. If the school does in fact want to improve, then it should listen to and enact the proposals of several students who made fantastic comments.

But I had the feeling that, no matter how much we offered, our input (whether new or not) would be simply ignored by the administration. I don’t want to be a cynic and believe this. The administration should set a different tone.

We have begun a dialogue, and it’s up to both us and the administration to follow through on it. As voiced by the provost and dean, we’ve spoken about this issue and will continue to speak about this issue ad nauseam. Alcohol policy is not the only pressing issue brought to light by Saturday’s events. I don’t have a right to blackout, but I have a right to have a proper mutually-respectful discussion about the events at our school.