Columns

Rock ’18: Spring Weekend bag policy encourages bingeing

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In a column published yesterday, one of my fellow columnists applauded the University’s non-punitive approach to substance use during Spring Weekend. While I agree that Brown’s general lack of severity in addressing drug and alcohol use is commendable, Spring Weekend in particular has two policies that are counterproductive and encourage unhealthy behavior: the prohibition on bringing bags into most events and the categorical ban on open containers of alcohol in public. In theory, both of these policies should help to reduce alcohol consumption and keep students safer. But in reality, they simply encourage people to swap somewhat unhealthy choices for much worse ones.

At the most basic level, the bag policy is a nuisance. The concerts are long, and it would be great to be able to bring in jackets, sunglasses, sunscreen, blankets and food without having to carry them all around with you. But the most important result of the bag policy and its clear motivation is that it prevents people from easily carrying alcohol into Spring Weekend with them. This would work well if people didn’t want so badly to be drunk during Spring Weekend. The concert is branded as a release from the stresses of college life, and it would be silly to pretend that alcohol use can be prevented during such an event. Alcohol use is fairly ubiquitous on college campuses on normal days and is bound to be particularly prevalent on special occasions.

By outlawing bags and open containers, concert organizers do not prevent alcohol consumption. They merely prevent overt, gradual alcohol consumption over the course of an evening and, quite possibly, the afternoon as well. In response to the difficulty of bringing alcohol inside the gates, people resort to a variety of alternatives including pre-gaming and switching to more compact drugs.

The bag policy does nothing to reduce the amount of more easily hidden substances that get brought into Spring Weekend. Anyone attempting to get close to the stage during either concert can bear witness to the apparent ease of getting weed and a lighter through the gates. Brown seems to have come to terms with the fact that there is no reasonable set of policies that could prevent pot smoking during Spring Weekend. I don’t have a particular problem with this, but do think that being surrounded by people who were gradually drinking would be far more pleasant than having smoke continually blown in my face. While allowing people to bring alcohol into Spring Weekend wouldn’t make everyone stop smoking, I think it would go a long way toward decreasing the number of people lighting up in the crowd.

Most importantly, the bag and beverage policy fails to account for the fact that, in order to bring alcohol into an event, a potential drinker would already have access to alcohol beforehand. One can get around the bag policy by drinking this alcohol somewhere else. Furthermore, the stated policy of turning away visibly intoxicated concert-goers exacerbates this problem by encouraging people to drink a large amount just before going to the concert so that the intoxication hits after they enter the gates. Many people try to drink enough immediately before leaving their rooms to keep them buzzed through several hours of performances. This is, clearly, a terrible idea. I saw multiple people get carried home by their friends before even making it through the entrance line on Saturday due to overzealous pre-gaming.

Public service announcement: Having large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time is the most dangerous way to drink, as it leaves the body almost no time to metabolize the alcohol. Additionally, the slight time delay between drinking and feeling drunk allows people to exceed their limits without realizing it when they drink rapidly. Allowing people to bring bags and beverages into Spring Weekend would, without overtly approving of drinking, give students the ability to pace themselves.

Brown generally has a very healthy approach to regulating alcohol and drugs, focusing on educating students about how to experiment safely while taking care of students who make mistakes. This set of policies acknowledges the fact that alcohol is an intractable part of college culture and focuses on improving student safety and curtailing the most dangerous practices rather than attempting to set up a blanket ban. The current policy on bags coming into Spring Weekend events is at odds with this realistic attitude and encourages students to engage in some of the high-risk behaviors they are taught to avoid.

Prohibiting bags and bottles during Spring Weekend only prevents the relatively minor problem of gradual drinking. Many people respond to this not by attending Spring Weekend sober but by binge drinking before entry or by finding more potent substitutes for alcohol. People who want to be intoxicated during Spring Weekend are going to find ways around any feasible enforcement methods. By selectively targeting only a relatively safe practice, Spring Weekend policies actually encourage heavier substance use and more dangerous drinking habits. The current rules are naive and accomplish the exact opposite of their goal. Spring Weekend would be safer if people were able to bring alcohol with them in their backpacks instead of their stomachs.

Avery Rock ’18 can be reached at avery_rock@brown.edu.

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