It’s one of the first things they tell you on the admissions tour. Right on the leafy sidewalk between the administration building and the student union, it pops out: “We’re a dry campus!” The nicely dressed, backward-walking tour guide smiles and makes eye contact with the parents in the group, while the prospective students shift uneasily. A dry campus? How do you have fun on the weekends? Doesn’t everybody go to college to drink?
Sometimes it did seem like everybody went to college to drink, even on a campus that had supposedly banned alcohol its premises. St. Olaf College, a small liberal arts school in Minnesota, has been dry since it was founded by Lutheran Norwegian immigrants in 1874. Despite its conservative heritage, my “dry” college was no different from a state university in many respects — house parties, beer pong and recycling bins overflowing with liquor bottles were the norm on most weekends.
The difference was the amount of effort we had to exert to hide our alcohol use. At St. Olaf, you had to be clever. One guy famously tried to sneak a case of beer into the dorm by claiming that the square bulge under his sweatshirt was a tumor; water bottles often turned out to hold straight vodka; and I once saw a girl use a syringe to inject rum into a juice box.
While I never actively agreed with the alcohol policy, it didn’t affect my life much during my first two years at college. My friends didn’t drink and I didn’t have much experience with alcohol, so I mostly ignored the issue. By my junior year, however, things had changed. Most of my friends drank regularly, I turned 21, and I also became an RA. This meant that I was expected to enforce the alcohol policy, potentially getting my friends and classmates in trouble if I caught them with booze. All of a sudden, the dry campus became a bigger deal than I ever expected.
Busting up parties and sniffing around the halls for the telltale smell of beer was never thrilling for me the way it seemed to be for some of my RA colleagues. The problem was that I didn’t follow the alcohol policy myself. Once I turned 21, I had a hard time accepting that my school had the right to tell me not to drink. I tried to imbibe mostly off campus, but on a few memorable occasions a friend hosted a dorm room party that was too good to resist, so I broke the rules.
Photo credit: Tim Wayne
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