by Karlin Wong
Kenyon’s drinking culture has long been a weighty issue on campus. It’s no secret that underage consumption is a prevalent practice, and the College’s approach to policing alcohol usage — with its Good Samaritan Policy and alcohol education efforts, including Beer and Sex advisors and party training — has emphasized safe drinking rather than abstention. Over the years, Kenyon has reformed its policies to accommodate the changing climate of alcohol consumption.
In 1987, the Ohio state legislature raised the minimum drinking age to 21. Prior to 1987, all persons 18 and over were permitted to buy beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or lower. As a result of this new law, Kenyon made changes to its alcohol policies for the 1987-1988 school year; hosts of events at which alcohol was served were required to card guests and stamp their hands according to whether they were over or under 21.
A 1987 opinions piece written by the Collegian’s editorial board described Kenyon’s response to changes in the Ohio state law as “a policy we can live with.” The editorial board continued: “The new policy is respectful of student rights, giving them the freedom to make reasonable choices with regard to the use of alcohol. At the same time, the policy is in concurrence with the new state law, the College no longer sponsoring or approving the serving of alcohol without proper checking of identification.”
In many ways, the spirit of responsible freedom has persisted in Kenyon’s alcohol policies since 1987. Current Associate Dean of Students Tacci Smith emphasized Kenyon’s focus on student safety. “It’s not about telling students, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s about telling students, ‘Don’t drink to the point where you’re [drinking in] excess and passing out.’” Complying with state laws without preaching abstention is an important part of Kenyon’s policies. Smith said, “Everything written and everything we say [to students] makes it clear that we have to abide by the law that no one under 21 should be drinking. But we also don’t want folks under 21 trying to be hidden away or sneaking around [with alcohol].”
“Part of the deal is wanting our upperclassmen to help other students know how to casually have a gathering if there’s alcohol involved,” Smith said. “Doing things in a safe manner is the underlying piece of our policy. But clearly when the under-21 rule is violated and Campus Safety comes upon [the violation], they have to deal with it. It’s not that the policy says anyone can drink anytime; it’s really about making good decisions.”
During Susan Apel’s ’83 time at Kenyon, drinking was a more public practice. “You could buy beer at the shop, the grocery store, and the Village Inn; it was just readily available,” she said. “We didn’t have any need for pre-gaming because people could easily get beer or green punch at frat parties.” According to Apel, the College did little to police consumption of hard alcohol because beer was already legalized. “When I was here, the college didn’t draw distinctions when policing hard liquor and beer,” she said. “The drinking culture was just more open.”
Pre-gaming — a common practice among students that involves drinking alcohol prior to attending a social function — became more popular after the minimum drinking age was raised because underage students were no longer guaranteed alcohol at campus parties. “A lot of students today feel that they need to get to parties with alcohol already in their systems,” Catie McGonagle ’17 said.
When Apel was a student, drinking in one’s room was considered unnecessary. “You would go straight from the library to a party because you knew there was going to be alcohol there,” Apel said. “People kept alcohol in their rooms, but we didn’t have many pre-party gatherings.”