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The Myth of a Dry Campus

The Myth of a Dry Campus
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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.

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Photo credit: Tim Wayne

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3:29AM PDT on Sep 24, 2012

Interesting, tanks

10:12AM PDT on Sep 23, 2012


3:31AM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

Kids will be kids.

7:58PM PDT on Sep 21, 2012


7:26PM PDT on Sep 21, 2012


6:50AM PDT on Sep 21, 2012

Amsterdam has it right, there is very little crime, drug and alcohol problems are minimal and yet everything is basically legal. Go figure

2:41AM PDT on Sep 21, 2012


11:39PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

No college campus will ever be a dry campus.

8:43PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

Amanda M.-Great insights, take another green star out of petty cash, my treat!

8:29PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

I went to a "dry" school as well where part of the application for enrollment included a "Lifestyle Covenant" which you had to sign. I had no problem signing it since I never really drank anyway--in fact, I was 23 when I had my first drink and I don't drink at all today. I did have one roommate however, one year who I think was close to becoming an alcoholic and she did seek counseling from the therapists that were on staff at the school. I know as a whole, there was not much in the way of drinking, but at one point one of my roommates who was old enough at the time as well did put a couple of wine coolers in my fridge. I was a little self-conscious when she did that because at the time we had an RA who was rather funny--he would randomly show up in other people's rooms to use their microwaves and such and I thought for sure he would find them. Never did though.

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