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One of the biggest priorities Messiah outlines for its students is “reconciliation between church and society.” Over the summer and into the fall semester, this has come to the forefront as the Student Government Association (SGA), and the governance of the College reviews potential changes to the alcohol policy.
The main policy change in consideration would allow students of legal drinking age to consume alcohol off-campus in a responsible manner. Results from a campus-wide SGA survey last spring indicated this was something many students felt comfortable with, especially in regards to alleviating logistical issues for commuters and non-traditional students.
“More and more students are coming from families where alcohol isn’t a big deal, and instead run on the principle that one can enjoy it as long as it is used in a responsible manner and not abused,” says Associate Dean of Students, Doug Wood.
Before students arrived on campus this year, SGA President Jonathan Fuller and Vice Provost and Dean of Students, Kris Hansen-Kieffer, were working as part of a task force researching alcohol policy changes within other Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) schools.
They contacted eight schools within the Council who had considered changes. Five had approved the changes in some form, and three continued to hold a policy similar to Messiah’s.
“As we looked at these schools, we were interested in the transition process, and how they handled implementing the new policy,” says Hansen-Kieffer.
Messiah’s alcohol policy was last reviewed in 2003. At that point, the policy added an additional exception, which does not bind students to the alcohol policy, “when students are living away from campus during summer and Christmas breaks and the academic year is not in session.” (Student Handbook, pg. 50)
“We were particularly interested in seeing how other schools’ policy changes had any effect on levels of alcohol abuse or sexual assault because that would have been a stopping point for the new policy,” says Fuller. “However, we found while there is some risk involving those factors when making a change to the policy, there was no correlation between the policy change and an increase in those areas.”
Another goal identified during the research process was increasing levels of education regarding alcohol consumption.
“We noticed that good education was lacking in most schools. While the NCAA provides good training for athletics, the rest of the student populations we were looking at didn’t seem to have as many resources,” says Hansen-Kieffer.
In response to this, a new alcohol education system is detailed in the proposal. Wood describes it as a “tri-modal” approach. The first section would occur early in a student’s time at Messiah while they are still likely to be underage. They will go through a training program similar to the online sexual assault training students participated in last year. The second phase would occur around a student’s 21st birthday, simply as a “refresher” and to provide College-specific training. Finally, a third phase would be available to those who violate the policy. This training would focus more on aspects like the BAC level, and how alcohol affects the body.
“We want to walk alongside students as they explore what this means in relation to their faith and their life,” says Hansen-Kieffer.
The new policy also went through several focus groups on campus and received feedback from organizations, athletics, and other areas of student life that are critical to Messiah’s campus.
“After meeting with the focus groups and taking in their suggestions, we did a re-write of the policy before formally presenting it for consideration,” says Hansen-Kieffer.
The presentation to Student Senate put in motion the final three steps necessary to pass the policy. The policy must first receive approval by the Community Standards Committee—a group that includes the chair of the Peer Review Board, an appointed student from the SGA, two faculty and co-curricular representatives, a dean, and an Engle Center representative. This group is currently considering the policy this week.
From there, the policy moves on to the Community of Educators Senate, and finally, the Board of Trustees.
Hansen-Kieffer says if the policy does not receive approval from one of the levels, it is taken out of consideration. Either a new policy would be proposed, or governance would move in a different direction.
If the new policy is approved, students age twenty-one and over will still be expected to abide by community standards on campus. Any possession of alcohol on campus, presentation of a belligerent state, or a reading above legal BAC levels are offenses that will still receive citations. Conversely, students who are under legal drinking age will remain under the current policy, which does not permit consumption on or off-campus.
To maintain the importance of the dry campus, SGA has approved higher fines that would go into effect alongside the policy. As in the past, any money collected from these fines will go toward the alcohol education program.
“This is not a ‘devil is in the drink,’ or ‘alcohol is evil’- related policy. Keeping campus, itself dry helps to maintain and protect a safe, educational environment,” says Fuller. There really aren’t any benefits we have seen in our research that show alcohol on campus would improve those aspects of student life.”
If the policy receives approval, the earliest it will go into effect is the fall 2016 semester.
“These potential changes we are looking at will help keep our campus healthy and open to discussing real topics,” says Fuller.