Student government weighs in on research report
Natalie Weber | Monday, October 30, 2017
Student government presented research on alcohol culture at Notre Dame during its semi-annual report to the University Board of Trustees on Oct. 19.
“We looked at alcohol culture at Notre Dame and we said, ‘Why do students drink here? What are the factors that feed into an alcohol culture?’” senior and student body president, Becca Blais, said. “And when I say ‘alcohol culture,’ that’s not just the presence of alcohol. It’s heavy use. We actually have a higher rate of usage of alcohol than pretty much all of our peer institutions both academically and athletically.”
Blais said student government began its research by examining why students drink.
“We came up with about 12 reasons: the residence life traditions, the Notre Dame bubble, social interactions, [a] work hard, play hard [mentality], stress, parietals, lack of conversation on the topic, tailgating and football, this perception that there’s nothing else to do, alumni, policy enforcement and the double standard — specifically in the dorms — and then home and prior life experience,” Blais said.
Student government found widespread abusive drinking produced several negative effects, including unhealthy drinking, sexual assault and lack of intellectual curiosity, Blais said.
“We saw that 66 percent of females and 46 percent of males who indicated that they had experienced non-consensual sexual intercourse while at Notre Dame said that they were unable to provide consent because they were asleep or incapacitated as a result of drugs or alcohol,” Blais said.
According to the University’s 2016 Sexual Conduct and Climate Questionnaire, 17 percent of males and 26 percent of females observed a fellow student who was unable to give consent to sexual advances because of drugs or alcohol.
An unhealthy alcohol culture can also negatively impact relationships, Blais said, in particular between female students and hall staff.
“[We saw] for example, women being afraid to go back to their dorms for a perception of being judged after drinking — so not going back home and instead spending the night elsewhere —and how dangerous that can be,” Blais said.
Senior and student body vice president, Sibonay Shewit, said student government’s research relied heavily on a year-long study conducted by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being.
“On top of that, we collected input from the student senate,” Shewit said. “The executive cabinet talked to the Office of Community Standards [and] different administrators, looked update previous board reports and then just [talked to] students. We tried to get as many voices as possible.”
Based on student government’s finding, the executive cabinet made several recommendations for improving alcohol culture at Notre Dame. Blais said the first recommendation focused on examples of healthy drinking in residence halls.
“We went around and we asked a lot of people, ‘Have you ever seen healthy drinking on campus?’” she said. “There were a few positive answers, and it was mostly game watches and stuff like that. So we want to see more opportunities for students, especially underclassmen, to interact with upperclassmen and alcohol in a really safe way.”
Blais said student government proposed replacing parietals with quiet hours, creating consistency in policy enforcement amongst dorms and focusing on building healthy relationships between students and hall staff.
“This will come out of conversations with rectors, primarily on the best practices in the dorms,” she said. “Some of the dorms are doing a really, really good job at building sustainable, healthy hall community, so what are they doing to build that community, and how can rectors emulate those practices?”
Providing information about events in South Bend would also help counter an abusive alcohol culture, Blais said.
“That’s where we would be advertising more of the alternatives that students have in South Bend as opposed to drinking all the time,” she said. “Again, this is also focusing on our drinking population at Notre Dame, which is about 80 percent, which is high.”
Student government chief of staff and junior Prathm Juneja said student government hopes to continue the conversation on “everything from the alcohol issue in terms of safe drinking, sexual assault [and] the drug policy, etc.”
“We’ll be comparing other university policies, policies that other Notre Dame students have had — whether it’s summer housing or abroad housing — so that we can have the best collection of information as to what policies are effective for the Notre Dame student population and which ones aren’t and which one the students on campus are in favor of,” Juneja said.
Though the report focused primarily on alcohol culture on campus, Blais said, student government also considered the potential effects of the new housing policy on Notre Dame’s alcohol culture.
“Looking at the three year housing policy, if you’re requiring students to stay on for three years, how will that affect alcohol culture?” she said. “Especially considering all these factors that we mentioned before, such as relationships with hall staff and rectors and parietals and everything, how do students interact with their dorms? What type of experience are we looking for in the dorms, and how does alcohol play a role in that?”
While student government made certain recommendations to the Board of Trustees, members are not looking for changes to the University’s alcohol policies, Blais said.
“We’re not asking for a new policy,” she said. “We’re asking for a conversation.”
“I know that with the new housing policy there was a lot of confusion about what student government’s role was in that decision, seeing that housing recommendations were the focus of the previous board report,” Shewit said. “So, the biggest thing to be clear is that wasn’t necessarily the focus of [Blais], [former student body president] Corey [Robinson] and [former student government chief of staff] Michael [Markel’s] board report in the spring, and a new alcohol policy wasn’t the focus of our presentation or report to the board this year.”
Blais said she hopes the report brings about changes in parietals and the drinking culture.
“I hope that the impact [of the report] would be a change in parietals,” she said. “There’s a group within the rectors leading some research on this right now … I would love to see healthy drinking on campus, to be led by hall communities and club communities and all over. That would be amazing.”
A healthier drinking culture would expose students to examples of healthy drinking, especially in dorm communities, Shewit said.
“I think that the best thing we could do for our alcohol culture is to end this taboo where students are afraid to talk about alcohol in their dorm or approach it as if it’s this topic that can’t be talked about around adults or [resident assistants]” she said.
Juneja said changes to the drinking culture would also help improve the community as a whole.
“We want to hopefully make steps towards making Notre Dame a safer, more equitable and more community oriented place,” he said. “That’s the community on-campus and off-campus and the South Bend community at large.”