As cliché as it sounds, it’s out with the old and in with the new. That’s a message we can all probably heed as we hopefully prepare to put away the sweaters and bulky coat in exchange for the flip-flops and shorts. Can you feel it? Spring is in the air. Well, we can always hope at least. In the wake of tragedy, Rider did the same. In response to the death of Gary DeVercelly Jr., the Presidential Task Force on Alcohol, Personal Responsibility and Student Life was convened to evaluate the old alcohol policy and make recommendations to be implemented for the 2007-2008 academic year. Six months later, we have all had the opportunity to adjust to the new rules and regulations regarding alcohol consumption on campus.
Let’s refresh our memories. Many will recall the revisions the task force composed of students, faculty and administrators made to the existing policy. Bear in the mind, the target was to reduce dangerous and abusive drinking habits. The most notable changes were the banning of parties with alcohol in Greek houses and residence halls, allowing underage students to gather in the Pub on open-age nights and implementing a Good Samaritan policy that allows someone to call for a friend in need without facing university disciplinary action. Enforcement was also tightened and penalties were ratcheted up.
In September 2007, an unsystematic Rider News survey of students from the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses found that 52 percent were familiar with the recommendations made by the task force. A larger poll of 248 students by The Rider News conducted over the last several weeks indicates that an overwhelming majority of students — 89 percent — are aware of the revisions to the alcohol policy. While change is never easy and the modifications may have been a difficult adjustment at first, the survey results show that 49 percent of respondents agree with the new alcohol policy.
But, the ship seems to have sailed for some students who may need another reminder on personal responsibility. Fifty-one percent of respondents to the survey willfully admitted that the rules would not act as a deterrent to drinking in residence hall rooms. That’s a statement that should raise eyebrows and foster concern. The results imply that the problem has simply moved behind closed doors. If that does not create anxiety, learning that almost three-fourths of the students polled indicated that alcohol abuse is a mild to serious problem should.
Now that the policy has had some time to take effect, it is time to begin a preliminary evaluation. Is it working? According to Mark Fisher, substance abuse coordinator, the number of alcohol violations has decreased from fall 2006 to fall 2007. That’s welcome news, and music to the ears of a University trying to instill a sense of responsibility in the community. But we should all realize that the mission is never complete.
Unfortunately, the picture isn’t peachy keen. In the past four weeks there have been at least three off-campus incidents at parties with Rider students. Keep in mind that we are only in the fifth week of the semester. Three freshmen who threw beer cans at a Lawrence Township police officer during an off-campus party were later charged with assault. Another incident in Ewing sent a 19-year-old to the hospital. These and other incidents managed to garner Rider more negative publicity in the pages of The Times of Trenton and other media outlets.
Students seem to be forgetting that when they make that turn onto Rt. 206 they still represent this University and the some 55,000 alumni who came before us. What we do beyond the walls of Rider impacts the image of our community. After the year we have had, the media seem willing to harp on any incident that occurs here and stereotype a university that has spurred success for so many, including the recently nominated and confirmed State Treasurer, David Rousseau.
Now more than ever, it is time we band together and take pride in our University. Even though 62 percent of respondents felt the University made revisions to the alcohol policy to mitigate its own legal liability, the fact that our collective welfare is at stake was another motivating factor. Let’s do as Aretha Franklin demands and have some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Written By Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros