With adulthood comes an individual’s freedom to fully make his own decisions, so long as those decisions do not violate the liberty of another individual. With this freedom comes the expectation that the individual will take responsibility for the decisions he makes. Indeed, personal accountability for one’s decisions and subsequent actions may be the most important factor distinguishing adults from children. So why is it that we treat some adult actions, particularly consuming alcohol, as if they were made by children?
A child may receive timeouts or groundings to disincentivize him from making poor choices. Still, excuses of youthful naivety and ignorance often triumph, thereby prolonging the child’s understanding that he must learn to deal with the consequences of his actions.
But at Stanford, those excuses tend to collapse under the university’s entirely appropriate treatment of students as adults. Students no longer have Mommy and Daddy to issue timeouts and groundings, they no longer have their every decision micromanaged, they no longer have anything or anyone else to take credit or blame for those decisions. They have entered the realm of adulthood.
When the University sets its policies based on its own principles, those policies emphasize students making adult decisions and taking personal responsibility for them. The university purposefully leaves decisions and consequences regarding academics, health, and sexuality to the individual student to handle, and the same is true of alcohol consumption on campus.
The freshman alcohol “Open-Door Policy,” AlcoholEdu, and even the police department’s approach to alcohol enforcement all rely on the assumption that students will either choose to drink or not, that they will choose to drink responsibly or not.
The Open-Door Policy is in place to keep drinking visible if freshman choose to drink. AlcoholEdu is based on the premise that the choice to drink or not should be an informed one. On Friday and Saturday nights, police officers sit on the corner of Mayfield and Campus watching underage drunk students leave parties all the time, but they do not stop them or bust the parties unless individuals are rowdy or carrying alcohol.
Like all adults, students constantly make good and poor decisions, and sometimes they are about alcohol. Other times, they are about food, fitness, jobs, sex, or any of the infinite issues we tackle each day. In all of these cases, the individual ultimately settles his own inner conflict. He must be the only person held accountable for the consequences of his decisions—be they positive or negative.
But at Stanford, the threat of lawsuits has influenced the university’s choice to reject personal responsibility in terms drinking, particularly at fraternities. As alcohol-induced trips to the hospital have risen in recent years, we have watched the university fiercely sanction fraternities with probation and other restrictions. The students are transported from fraternities—their final stops of the night—and so fraternities become the scapegoats. Here, the University’s actions completely contradict the principles of personal responsibility upon which it operates in almost all other aspects of student life.
The same Mommies and Daddies who once issued half-hearted punishments, micromanaged their children’s decisions, and ultimately shifted blame for their children’s poor decisions are now doing the same even as their children are beginning adulthood. They are influencing the University’s unprincipled punishment of fraternities.
Their sons and daughters choose to seek out alcohol on Saturday night, find it, drink too much of it too quickly, and they wake up at Stanford Hospital on Sunday morning. By Monday morning, their parents are lobbing threats at the University.
After too many threats, the university punishes fraternities, the targets most likely to appease angry parents. This practice stands even though the punished fraternity may be only the last of many places where someone did drink during the night.
To punish fraternities directly, and other students indirectly, is to transfer some of the responsibility from the only individual who is truly responsible—the person who made the choice to drink irresponsibly. If Stanford wants to assume that its students are adults, then it must consistently allow its students to be adults. To uphold its commitment to personal responsibility, Stanford needs to stop punishing fraternities for others’ decisions. And the university needs to remain firm against parental coercion. For when Stanford disassociates its alcohol policies from its personal responsibility principles, the real losers are the students who are relegated to the realm of childhood.