Queen's University — Since 1873
10th February 2012

Sanctions go too far

A first-year's account of the disciplinary process after getting caught with alcohol in residence

According to the Main Campus Residents' Council's (MCRC) rules handbook, students aged 19 or over are allowed to have up to 24 cans of beer in their residence room.
According to the Main Campus Residents' Council's (MCRC) rules handbook, students aged 19 or over are allowed to have up to 24 cans of beer in their residence room. (Asad Chishti)

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“You have just completed your personalized Alcohol eCHECKUP TO GO! You are a 20-year-old female and you do not belong to a sorority.”

That’s what I read on the results of my e-Chug evaluation, a test I’d been required to take after violating alcohol rules in residence earlier this year.

In fact, the e-Chug evaluation was just one of several disciplinary sanctions imposed by the residence staff. I’m also required to complete a reflective essay, meet privately with my residence don, research the negative effects of alcohol on the body and find two campus clubs I’d be interested in joining.

It’s a process that has left me frustrated and humiliated. I feel as if the residence sanction system has labelled me an alcoholic.

Yes, it’s true I was drinking in residence. I was drinking a beer with friends in my common room, from an opaque travel mug with a closed lid — a violation of Residence Rule 1.2a, which prohibits open alcohol in public areas of residence.

According to the residence rules handbook, students aged 19 or above are allowed to have up to 24 cans of beer in their residence room at a given time. What’s not entirely clear is where they’re allowed to drink this alcohol.

Open alcohol isn’t permitted in any public space in residence, including students’ rooms when the door is open. That means no beer cans in the common room or hallways. Fine.

In my case, because I was drinking from a covered container, I was initially not deemed in violation of any residence rule at the time of the incident. But a couple of days later, my case was re-opened after the Main Campus Residents’ Council (MCRC) decided the term “open alcohol” included covered containers.

From this incident I’ve learned that drinking alcohol isn’t permitted anywhere in residence besides a private room, regardless of the container. But what about drinking privately with other students on my floor, many of whom are underage? Am I supposed to drink my beer alone in my room with my door closed?

The lack of immediate and clear action from residence staff at the time of the incident shows that even dons and others who enforce these rules are unsure of their meaning and implications.

After my case was re-opened, I accepted responsibility for a level-one violation. I didn’t want to spend the time trying to appeal it. Had I lied, it’s likely I wouldn’t have been punished.

While I accepted responsibility for my behaviour, the consequences and detailed series of sanctions that followed weren’t clear. I thought that admitting my behaviour as a 20-year-old adult, having a lengthy conversation with residence staff about alcohol consumption rules and accepting the $50 bond placed on my residence account would be adequate.

Instead, I’m completing a lengthy sanction process which seems fit for correcting a serious alcohol problem. To go through this process for drinking a single covered beer in residence is humiliating.

Excessive drinking has never been part of my lifestyle. Buying booze isn’t a big part of my budget; I still have the case of beer I bought for my birthday last November. Drinking in residence is comfortable and safe. I like to enjoy a few beers surrounded by friends, with a don on call and a bathroom and bed nearby.

The residence rules system should tolerate this kind of responsible drinking in residence. Isn’t drinking safely in residence better than drinking heavily at a kegger in the Ghetto?

I know other students who take pride in their e-Chug results. They laugh about how their self-reported intoxication levels put them, in the words of the survey results, “at risk of death.” They boast about how much money they spend on booze — the equivalent of a ski trip or new laptop, for some.

Somehow, I don’t think the current disciplinary system is having the right effect.

The current system should be revised. Rules must be more clearly stated for both students and residence staff.

Yes, it’s true that students who drink in residence might engage in unsafe behaviour. But I’d prefer to see a system that placed sanctions on the unsafe behaviour — regardless if students are intoxicated or not — rather than disciplining the act of drinking on its own.

Each case should be individually considered before disciplinary measures are taken. Honesty and maturity should be rewarded. It’s only by treating students as mature adults that one can expect them to behave that way.

It’s inevitable that students will drink alcohol during their first year of university. The residence rules system should recognize this, or it will continue to fail students.

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