Alcohol on campus: the sobering truth

U of T lacks comprehensive policy on alcohol in residences
Students drinking beer together. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY
Students drinking beer together. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

For many students, the consumption of alcohol is a central component of recreation and relaxation. There is a distinct culture tied to university drinking — the red solo cup and drinking games like beer pong are intimately linked to generic images of college life. Alcohol culture, however, manifests at different college residences in a variety of ways.  Despite having an extensive alcohol policy related to the promotion and sale of alcohol at university sanctioned events, the University of Toronto has no overarching policy on the possession and consumption of alcohol in residence buildings.

New College, the second-largest college on the St. George Campus, and home to approximately 880 resident undergraduates, has strict policies on alcohol. The college lists misuse of alcohol as a major offence, alongside acts such as “inappropriate disposal of human bodily waste” and “causing damage to or stealing residence property.” The residence agreement to which all New College residents must consent, lists underage drinking, serving alcohol to underage students possession of funnels or other drinking paraphernalia, and drinking games, as behaviours that are prohibited. 

New College also cracks down on party culture, which is not exclusive to alcohol. It is considered a minor offence to have a party, defined as: “any combination of two of the following three criteria: i) five or more individuals in one room ii) the presence of alcohol iii) significant noise.” New College takes the strictest stance on alcohol of all the colleges, stifling not only recreational alcohol consumption, but also that of socialization in residence as a whole.

The Residence Life Office at New College did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Trinity College’s drinking culture stands in stark contrast to that of New College. The college can apply for a permit that allows them to hold events serving alcohol in a cordoned-off area. Upon acceptance to Trinity, all first-year students wishing to go to events at which alcohol is served are required to attend an alcohol education seminar, held during Orientation Week. The Office of the Dean of Students keeps track of which students have attended the session in order to admit them to events throughout the year.

Adil Abdulla, chair of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), expressed concern with the enforcement of the college’s alcohol policy. “People are meant to check for ID when they sell those [drink] tickets… I don’t really think anybody checks,”  he said. “There some events where everybody gets alcohol, there are no checks for it whatsoever, and it is totally free.”

Abdulla also revealed that the TCM can access about $160,000 of the college’s residence fees, $22,000 of which is projected to be used on alcohol for licensed college, this year. This spending implicitly incorporates the provision of alcohol into the college’s mandate, making alcoholic events central and prevalent. There is an inconsistency in the willingness of the college’s administration to intervene in student life and private spaces.

Victoria University has regulations that govern students’ private property as a form of alcohol policy, stipulating in its residence handbook that residents may “not have, obtain, or make a fake ID — if [they] have one it can be confiscated and legal action may be taken.” Melinda Scott, dean of students at University College, indicated in an interview with The Varsity that the college does not take a punitive stance on alcohol. “It is not our practice for residence staff to conduct random checks of student rooms,” Scott said, adding, “[we] also know that there are some who will choose to consume alcohol regardless of their age. For this reason, we try to balance sanctions for underage drinking with education about the responsible use of alcohol.”

Woodsworth College, the largest college at U of T, takes a similar approach to UC. “Generally we take an educational approach, encouraging our residents to make responsible choices should they choose to consume alcohol, while noting that it is not a requisite part of attending university,” said Steve Masse, assistant to the dean for residence life. Like all colleges, the consumption of alcohol is not permitted in public areas, which include hallways and common rooms.

“[When] a resident is found to be in violation of some part of our alcohol policy, they are assigned an educational sanction that encourages reflection and healthier behaviour in the future. This approach typically proves quite successful at altering problematic behaviours,” said Masse.

The expression of alcohol culture varies widely across the residences at U of T’s colleges. The reasons for the inconsistency between alcohol policies at different colleges remain unclear. It is clear that the experience of those in residence is shaped greatly by the subtleties in alcohol policies that govern that culture.

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