BY JOHAN LE ROUX
I do not drink and have not done so for a number of years – this being for personal and religious reasons. One would think that I would be the first to make public my praise for the University’s new alcohol policy which effectively bans the storage, consumption and sale of alcohol in University residences. Not so.
Firstly, I would like to point out the glaring inconsistency in the University’s treatment of students – especially of first years.
The University is only willing to treat students as adults if and when it pleases University Administration to do so. Let me demonstrate:
At this year’s “Dream Launch” event held at Coetzenburg Stadium, Dr Choice Makhetha issued a warning to all first years. In effect, she warned that they are responsible for their academic futures at Stellenbosch University, and that they will be treated as adults with respect to failing modules, failing their course, and so on. She went on to mention the recent spotlight on gender-based violence, the view being that those guilty of these crimes will be treated as adults in being met with the full severity of the law (a view with which all are in one accord).
However, the social lives of students are apparently open to interference. Apparently, it is acceptable in the sight of University Administration to treat students as children by dictating morality.
This double-standard goes further than the alcohol policy. The entire welcoming period reeks of absolute immaturity. First years are forced to wear the same shirts to the Dream Launch, and those who arrived not having done so are lambasted by staff. First years are escorted around town by reflective-vested, whistle-blowing, flag-waving house committees who seem to have taken up the profession of pre-school teacher. The vast majority of first years in residences are barred from going out during welcoming week. First years are told to make flowers from bottles and to paint them with sponges before pinning them on a fence during cluster activities. The list can go on.
The University’s aim, it seems, is not to create meaningful experiences for students, but rather to create photo opportunities for an immaculate Twitter feed, at the expense of the maturity of first years and other students. On the other hand, the University seems hell-bent on destroying any event or tradition which creates actual unity and actual fun between and for first years (I am of course making reference to the welcoming activities conducted by University residences, which have been destroyed wholesale – but this is a topic for a different article).
Policy makers need to ask themselves this: are they adults, or are they children, and to what extent are we willing to impose (with threat of expulsion) our subjective sense of how students ought to act.
Here is some food for thought: not once has the University made a dire attempt to encourage students staying privately to refrain outright from using alcohol.
The alcohol policy is doomed to fail. If not at the hands of mass student action against the University, it will be when another tragic accident occurs after a student has been drinking in town. This is the major flaw of the policy: one cannot prevent students from drinking outside of University property.
As to the claims that there is a link between gender-based violence and the consumption of alcohol, there is little which can be said in refute. However, as I have said, there is a large contingent of students who are still allowed to own and use alcohol in their private places of accommodation. Added to this, again, is the snag that violence is just as possible after a night out on the town.
The effective reach of the alcohol policy, thus, is very small, but the discontent it is going to cause cannot be understated.
The origins of the alcohol policy are, to an extent, sickening. The University has used the tragic events of last year as an opportunity to create a policy whereby it can absolve itself of any liability going forward. It had found its martyr. And now the goal, which began with the non-renewal of the residence liquor licenses, has been achieved.
What then is to be done to prevent alcohol abuse? Well, just that. Promote good values, good morals and good standards. Do not drink. Go to class. Treat women well. Stand up when elders enter the room. Get married. Have children. Be responsible. The problem is that the values of not engaging in binge drinking and not abusing women are a part of an interwoven set of values that is foreign to both our modern culture, and to the University. I have serious doubts as to whether the alcohol policy is going to achieve anything.