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Responsibility and Reconciliation

October 5, 2010

Alex Bargmann
Responsibility and Reconciliation

"Anyone can become angry– that is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way– this is not easy." –Aristotle

In the past month, Claremont McKenna's Dean of Students Office and administrative bodies have begun to act publicly on growing concerns over CMC’s social culture– a culture in which alcohol is, in many ways, fundamental. Michael’s article has demonstrated the presence of these worries within the administration: that the college, as its presence on the national stage grows, could be compromising future success by maintaining a social precedent that has developed over time.

Their actions and statements have created fervor campus-wide.  Some of this has turned into thoughtful debate about CMC’s future; others have ignored the facts, choosing instead to vilify and bark down a problem that is integral to the character of CMC. But a legitimate question has been brought forth: can a culture with an open and responsible presence of alcohol, as the student body has come to know and cherish, be reconciled with the CMC we expect to see in twenty years?

In many ways, we should commiserate with the administration's arguments.  I can see why the Admissions Office is concerned with our ranking on Princeton Review’s “Most Beer” list.  I am, too. In no way is drinking a defining aspect of a CMCer, nor has it ever been.  And it is embarrassing to hear of prospective students who were ostracized by the social culture here.  But there is a reason CMC has achieved so much success in the past sixty years and developed such a strong appreciation for its culture– from alumni to current students.  That is not to say that we do not see both sides, but there is value in an open acceptance of alcohol.  When CMC honors the responsibility of ASCMC and the student body, the college provides for a campus social life in a way that brings alcohol out from behind closed doors to create a unified student body that can clearly, as past successes and events show, excel in striking a profound balance between work and social events.

The administration, even with good reason to question the feasibility of its policy going forward, must not react with a simplified tightening of our social culture.   There will always be a segment of college students, especially CMCers, that drink.  Forcing these students to close their doors will draw a line between them, and very well may change the potential for social interaction at this school in a dramatic way.  A party at CMC is not contingent upon drinking like the hidden, small scale, and isolated social events students at other colleges experience; rather anyone, from 18-22, is given the same potential to enjoy the same event.

I do not think it is the explicit goal of DOS to abandon or ignore the benefits of a culture like this, one that CMC has had for decades but has perhaps pushed to some limits in recent years.  The Alcohol Task Force report, which everyone on this campus should read, claims that a dry campus is not the final goal.  It is infuriating to watch students react without all the facts and aggregate events into some 'master plan' with the goal of tearing down social tradition here.  In figuring out how CMC moves forward, we need more proactive and informed arguments.

In the same vein, the administration should avoid jumping to the somewhat paranoid conclusion that the only way to avoid a national party reputation is by curtailing the existing drinking culture. By almost any legitimate measure, we are far from a party school. And if administration were to lose sight of the advantages of our culture, their arguments for change could snowball into significant changes that are detrimental to what CMC’s character has been and should, in key aspects, continue to be.

We do not have to just accept the form of other top tier liberal arts colleges as we are given more attention. CMC’s success comes from a unique allure, academic and otherwise.  In some ways, our appreciation of events that are responsibly reliant on alcohol fosters the exceptional and united community we have here.  Yes, comparisons to schools like Pomona and Dartmouth will continue. There's no reason to inject their social cultures and alcohol policies into ours.

This is a convoluted, and even amorphous, situation; both sides of the debate share the same goal to advance CMC. But many of us have misinterpreted fundamental premises.  CMC is still a young school, but its narrative is on the cusp of matriculating towards a new era.  The positives and negatives of this maturation are beginning to become apparent; our challenge is to now retain a culture that responsibly incorporates alcohol as an aspect of a much-celebrated social atmosphere.  This is far from impossible, but not all that we have had in my time here is feasible.  What follows from understanding future needs and responsibility, as CMC becomes evermore prominent and money continues to accrue, is a recognition of the vital and beneficial aspects of a culture that got us to this point in the first place. Some student factions will put up guards and develop a paranoia that prevents growth and improvement. But who CMC becomes in the future must incorporate what got us here, and alleviate the insecurities that become apparent as CMC’s reputation takes its place among the elites– not just in our own eyes, but also in those of future students, alumni, faculty, and administrators.

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