Student government conducts research on drinking culture at Notre Dame
Kelli Smith | Thursday, December 7, 2017
This year’s student government spent the fall semester conducting research and advancing policies on a topic specific to the social atmosphere at Notre Dame: the alcohol culture on campus.
Student government zeroed in on the subject after the University Board of Trustees requested information on it for student government’s annual fall board report. After an initial presentation detailing research progress to the Board in October, student body president and senior Becca Blais said student government has only continued to work on confronting such a large issue.
“We wanted to address [the topic] in a really holistic way,” Blais said. “Our biggest insistence to the Board of Trustees was that we’re not looking for a blanket policy solution to alcohol culture, we’re actually looking for healthy examples of drinking on campus and things like that.”
In addition to collaborating with the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being — which Blais said contributed over 400 pages of research on the subject — and the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP), chief of staff and junior Prathm Juneja said the report has also started conversations about gender equity, housing, residential life and the drug policy on campus.
“The advantageous thing about board report — even if it’s not something that we would have particularly chosen as our own topic — is that we get to do some in-depth research on topics that we like, things that we are also passionate about,” Juneja said.
Though Blais said addressing alcohol culture wasn’t one of her platform’s main priorities, she believes having conversations related to it is important to implementing change.
“Prior to this year, I never really heard people talk about alcohol as being abusive drinking or anything like that, it was just part of the culture,” she said. “And now we have people actually recognize, ‘Wow, we do drink more on average in terms of quantity and number of times in a month, I wonder why.’”
One of the outcomes Blais said she hoped to see come out of the board report is happening in terms of gender equity amongst the dorms, which she said she finds important because “rectors didn’t used to always talk to each other about this stuff.”
“There’s actually a committee of rectors now that is dedicated to specifically looking at gender inequity and how they can best address it,” Blais said. “They’re not trying to make some dorms more strict and some more lenient, but they’re trying to find what is the best practice here.”
Senior and student body vice president Sibonay Shewit said the report has also benefited student senate by allowing them to approach new changes such as the housing policy with the “scope of the impact of the drinking culture.”
“Until an outsider, someone who isn’t a Notre Dame student, brought up how aggressive [our drinking culture] is I don’t think I’d ever been like, whoa,” Shewit said. “Because you come in and you’re told that’s what’s normal. Partnering that with the drinking is just recognizing the severity of some alcohol issues on campus.”
To increase the occurrence of safe drinking as opposed to binging or unhealthy drinking, Blais said they asked a lot of students if they’d ever seen healthy drinking on campus, such as casual wine nights or drinking a few beers while watching a sports game, to which most said no.
“One thing that people brought up to us was that at networking events when there are cocktails, Notre Dame students didn’t really know how to limit their cocktail consumption,” Blais said. “One example that we thought would be really nice is if the dorms hosted mock-networking receptions, like cocktail receptions where people could, in a low-stress environment not vying for a job in that moment, learn how to have one cocktail and engage with their peers and faculty members.”
If anything, Shewit said, the best thing that can come out of the report is students feeling they had a chance to provide input.
“It shouldn’t just be a board report that the three of us and our team put together,” she said. “It should be that you can pick up a group of students and someone can say, ‘Oh yeah I was approached about this, they asked me a question about this and I knew who to talk to about this.’”
The conversations being had on safe drinking, gender inequity and drug policy will continue until the end of their term, Juneja said, when he hopes to see changes in all three of those aspects.
“One of the things that we promised the trustees at the end of the report was we’re going to be in touch,” Juneja said. “So we’ve been in touch with student affairs and we’re going to be in touch with them with updates on where we’re moving on our own version of these things with McWell, housing, etc., so we can have some sort of ongoing conversation about making Notre Dame a healthier and safer campus.”