Upon attending orientation at Kenyon College as an incoming transfer student, I noticed a curious mantra in an alcohol awareness seminar: “We want you to have fun,” repeated multiple times by the speakers, Associate Director of Health Promotion Holly Levin and Senior Director of Campus Life James Jackson. While at first I assumed this was an empty platitude to not scare off freshmen looking to “have some fun,” the further we got into the seminar, the more disturbing the phrase became. The obvious subtext here was: We know you will drink and we cannot stop you. This is, of course, absurd because Kenyon can take preventative measures to stop students from drinking underage, so the real mantra here was: We know you will drink and we will not stop you. This is far too permissive an attitude to take towards an illegal and irresponsible activity on our campus.
Kenyon is a wet campus. Alcohol is sold to of-age students at the Village Market. Quite obviously, students 21 and over can buy alcohol at the Market and give it to underage students with ease. The main point of the alcohol seminar was to ‘drink responsibly,’ the oxymoron that permeates all alcohol marketing. This is not to say drinking cannot be done responsibly; it is instead to say that a large percentage of students do not drink responsibly or legally.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 33 percent of college students engage in binge drinking. This is a staggering number. No amount of counting drinks or relying on friends (two things that were suggested in the seminar but become more difficult when inebriated) precludes this fact. Binge drinking is unequivocally dangerous and unhealthy, and to think that Kenyon’s light nudge against alcohol consumption all but encouraged this behavior shocked me.
Yes, Kenyon’s thesis is accurate. There will always be students who drink underage, just as there will always be criminals who commit any number of crimes. Does this mean we shouldn’t enforce the law? Kenyon underestimates its own authority in this manner. It is an institution fully capable of discipline and discouragement of such incorrigible acts as underage and binge drinking.
The cognitive dissonance here occurs when the presence of alcohol inflicts itself upon hookup culture. According to a study conducted by Michael Carey of Syracuse University, alcohol is present in the majority of hookups. Alcohol has also been proven to increase the likelihood of a person to engage in risky sexual behavior they might not engage in sober. One in five women in college report some form of sexual assault during their time in college. The vast majority involve alcohol or other substances.
The examples of the negative effects of drinking in the seminar were two rather mild cases of someone being belligerent or disagreeable while inebriated towards an authority. Never mentioned during the seminar were statistics on the link between alcohol and sexual assault. The complete negligence to not establish that connection is terrifying. Alcohol can do far worse to people than make them disagreeable. When assault is as pervasive as it is on college campuses in the United States right now, it strikes me as irresponsible for the Kenyon administration to not mention it once during a seminar on drinking.
Kenyon is far too lenient in its approach towards drinking on campus. Instead of punishment for underage drinking, the seminar emphasized conversation and willingness to compromise, something I find a bit disturbing considering the nature of the infraction committed. Belligerence and disagreeableness are not the only things that can happen upon drinking. The consequences of underage or binge drinking can be far, far worse. Sexual assault and alcohol poisoning, the latter of which was discussed at length, are not matters to trivialize. During our seminar on alcohol, there was not a single mention of rape or assault. Kenyon neglects these examples in favor of a liberal “have fun here” attitude. Are they doing this so that students looking for the “college experience” are not discouraged from attending? Are they simply swallowed by the current liberal ideology pervading universities? Either is possible, but neither is a valid reason not to be more authoritative in the approach towards something as potentially dangerous as alcohol. Kenyon should not be your friend’s cool parents. It is an institution with a responsibility to keep its students safe and healthy. Clearly, it has a ways to go in engaging with those responsibilities with respect to alcohol.
Alex Johnson ’24 is an English major from Libertyville, Ill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.