OPINION: PLNU should be a “wet” Campus

In Latest News, Opinion by Ged Valenzuela

“In light of the findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence from all intoxicants.” This single rule is one of the most important and contentious aspects of the PLNU Student Handbook. Something that distinguishes PLNU from many other colleges is its status as a “dry campus,” where possession, distribution, and consumption of alcohol is banned, regardless of the owner’s age or intention to consume it elsewhere. This type of ethic has significantly shaped campus culture and disciplinary responses towards individuals that violate these principles.  

I argue that a more holistic and environmentally-oriented approach is needed in order to more effectively address alcohol use and abuse on campus, as empirics have only reaffirmed that the current approach will remain ineffective in addressing alcohol-related issues on campus.   

When it comes to alcohol consumption, safety must be made the top priority.  I would argue that having a “dry campus” policy only serves to decrease the safety of students and reduce cohesion within the student community.  The primary problem associated with the “dry campus” is that it perpetuates a culture of equal parts curiosity and disobedience, which drives people away from the school and into unknown and potentially dangerous situations.  

I would argue that excessive alcohol consumption occurs more frequently off-campus under a “dry campus” policy than it would on-campus under a “wet campus” policy. This type of behavior is explained by research within the psychological field of social norms theory, which showed that not only did individuals (particularly young adults and adolescents) overestimate the permissiveness of peer attitudes or behavior with regards to alcohol, drug use, and other problematic behaviors, but they frequently underestimated the prevalence of healthy attitudes and behaviors, which discouraged them from engaging in said positive behaviors. I think that a large reason as to why the overestimation of permissiveness develops is because the “cool” factor that comes with breaking the rules and subverting authority de-incentivizes students from engaging in healthy behaviors.

The explanation as to why abstinence culture fails – it necessarily stigmatizes the discussion surrounding alcohol and also equates usage and missteps with evil and total failure.  This necessarily means that having a more open discussion is able to foster a better community.

For a Christian university to declare itself a “wet” campus is not unheard of.  Wheaton College is a selective Christian institution similar in size and theological perspective to PLNU, yet their alcohol policy is much more lenient: permitting individuals 21 years and older to consume alcohol in private spaces and designated common spaces, when that event is registered for alcohol (and even in these situations, individuals may only consume alcohol registered and provided by the event hosts).  Students 21 and older are held accountable in situations where alcohol is being provided to underage students, demonstrating that even under such a framework there is still respect for the law and the safety of minors.

According to a statement made by the school,“ the prevalence of alcohol on college campuses is a reality.  Within the framework of one’s personal values, students will make choices about whether to consume or not.  The university provides education about alcohol’s effects on the body, about the potential consequences of use and misuse, and about how to recognize when someone needs medical intervention.”

I would certainly not dispute that alcohol abuse is the most dangerous substance abuse problem currently facing the United States, with 88,000 people dying from alcohol-related causes annually, along with a plethora of other issues.

Additionally, alcoholism is oftentimes a significant factor in many domestic abuse scenarios and the dissolution of families.  I will not pretend that alcoholism has affected family members of mine as well as close friends and their families as well.  All of these numbers are reasons why we need to continue having these conversations and facing the realities so that we can decrease those numbers.  Instead of equating self-hatred as the product of alcohol, how about we start viewing excessive alcohol usage as indicative of deeper issues.  It is important to have these discussions in the long run because we must stop masking the problems.  

I would also advocate for necessarily eliminating the requirement for the SASSI inventory because it is not useful or a valid test.  I get that the purpose of the test is to look for indirect ways, but at the point which there is not a contextualization or interpretation of what any of the results mean it becomes very problematic and leaves room for misdiagnosis and incredibly open to interpretation.

Some may argue that the school is allowed to make its own living agreements, and that people who would have any disagreement would find the school to simply be “not a good fit.”  I see this as this assumes that I believe that this type of response is not productive because it continues to frame the issue of alcohol usage as a black-and-white issue, when in reality that is simply not true and the reality is more complex.   Additionally, this type of response doesn’t negate the disadvantages that come with adopting those specific living agreements.  It is about creating a culture that encourages students to make safe, healthy, and legal choices.  
We need to be fostering a community that addresses the nuances, instead of misdiagnosing.  Otherwise, these issues never stop.  PLNU has always struck me as a loving and listening community, it is time to do a better job.

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