Sobering Up at James Madison

My name is James, and I haven’t had a drink since Springfest

Robert Showah

The first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

That is exactly what James Madison University President Linwood Rose did last week just before the start of the new academic year in the wake of last semester’s Springfest disaster that left a rather large, vomity stain on the university’s reputation.

Now, in preparation for the fall, the university’s administration has a brand spankin’ new set of policies it hopes will sober students up. All of this happening at a time when Gov. Bob McDonnell is pushing to privatize the government-run Alcohol Beverage Control liquor stores.

Rose sent out a letter to all new and returning students declaring “It is time to change our culture. JMU will not be defined by a negative alcohol culture, nor will we allow it to be perpetuated.”

Wow. This almost sounds like Rose just recently discovered JMU’s buck-wild party scene, which would make him either terribly out-of-touch or totally ignorant to how people refer to his university. It’s even possible that he simply did not want to acknowledge this reputation before, probably because the administration and law enforcement both knew that they were letting students get away with underage alcohol consumption and possession – something that is so ingrained in the college experience no amount of law enforcement can entirely eradicate it.

Much can be deliberated about who knew what when, but the current issue is what these new policies will be, if they will truly be enforced and how students will react.

The policies include: additional law enforcement on-and-off-campus, preemptive police intervention during weekends, the presence of ABC agents to ensure underage people aren’t being served alcohol by a host, apartment managers being asked to not allow outdoor parties, and harsher sanctions on students with multiple alcohol-related violations. Yes, like setting dumpsters on fire.

It is difficult to know what the effects exactly will be if these policies are enforced. Remember, prior to this year Springfest was a “small” gathering of a couple thousand students. However, last semester’s disaster included more than 8,000, many of whom were not JMU students. So are these policies in response to JMU students or people who don’t even attend JMU or live in Harrisonburg?

Even if JMU students – for the most – are innocent of the most violent acts of Springfest 2010, there is one that should be held responsible for his or her incredibly stupid actions: the schmuck who posted the party to Facebook.

Perhaps this person is the cause to this whole problem, somebody who doesn’t know that creating a Facebook event to one of the largest party schools on the East Coast would cause problems that would not be taken lightly by authorities.

Another one of JMU’s policy initiatives is “educate students about the safe and responsible use of social media.” Despite the rampage that took place, this policy addresses what lit the fuse.

The bottom line here is that there isn’t a point-value system for the amount of carnage a non-JMU student caused compared to a JMU student. An event this huge was held on JMU’s turf and the students involved need to suck it up and take responsibility for their actions instead of acting as though they are being victimized.

JMU students were straddling the red line for years and it was accepted. The authorities would ignore students going on drunken food excursions or screaming on the notorious drunk bus. But then they crossed the line, about 6,000 people over, and now this is the situation they find themselves in. It’s hard to dispute the enactment of these policies.

Aside from how students might react, there is another dimension to the issue. McDonnell wants to privatize the ABC liquor stores to raise money for the state’s transportation fund.

While there is sound reasoning for this legislatively, according to State Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, it would not pass, “nor is it even close.” Not only this, but Saslaw was quoted in the Washington Examiner doubting the passage of the plan, arguing that the Governor’s revenue estimates from privatization would not be enough to match the current revenue unless triple the amount of liquor were sold, or if the excise tax on the product were raised.

Not to mention if the stores were privatized it would defeat JMU’s policy of having ABC agents deployed in the Harrisonburg area.

If the university’s administration actually enforces these new policies, then JMU could be a different place than from year’s past, though perhaps the parties will simply be kept indoors. As many ways as there are to crack down on this sort of behavior, there are an equal number of ways to dodge them.

Only time will tell what the possible collision of liquor store privatization and thirsty college students will mean should McDonnell’s initiative become a reality potentially weakening the new university policies.

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