St. Olaf students address drinking on and off “dry” campus

Photo by Jos Rowan "Elephant in the Room" appeared in Buntrock Commons at Saint Olaf College to draw attention to alcohol consumption on the campus, which has a "dry" policy.
Photo by Josh Rowan Students displayed "Elephant in the Room" in Buntrock Commons to draw attention to alcohol consumption on the "dry" campus.
Members of the Saint Olaf College community have been talking about underage binge drinking this month after a student wrote a column titled, “Hi, my name is Ole and I’m an alcoholic” in the student paper, and after a group of students collected enough liquor bottles and beer cans strewn around the campus (which has a “dry” policy) to construct a Volkswagen-sized sculpture in the student center.

“We have a pretty articulated policy that alcohol is not allowed on campus, and that applies to faculty and students,” Greg Kneser, vice president and dean of students, said last week, “That doesn’t mean everybody abides by it.”

Kneser said consequences for breaking the policy can range from the offender to pay $25 to complete a 90-minute program called “My Student Bodyto expulsion, after multiple offenses. He said administrators also address a student’s behavior if Northfield residents or police catch him or her doing something inappropriate off campus.

Kneser said he does not believe the amount of problems associated with Saint Olaf students drinking on or off campus has changed in the 20 years he has worked at the school.

He guessed that the only change might exist in the attitude students and parents have about alcohol. They could be less conservative today, he said. So he believed there could be a greater percentage of underage students now who have at least tried alcohol.

Despite a seeming constancy in the number of alcohol-related problems, Saint Olaf administrators instituted a new policy this year that could potentially lower the frequency among the few students living in off-campus housing. That policy, drafted with input from some Northfield landlords, requires landlords and students to agree to a set of seven requirements.

The one requirement that seems to directly address “concern from some neighbors about the conduct of students living in residential neighborhoods,” reads, “Renters and Police must be given an answered phone number of the landlord that will be answered by a person able to address problems and complaints.”

Northfield Police Chief Mark Taylor compiled lists of of the number and nature of calls to Saint Olaf and Carleton College campuses that officers responded to in the past few months. According to the data tables, police responded to seven instances of drug “activity,” one instance of drunkenness, and one loud party between April and November at Carleton College and no apparently alcohol-related calls to St. Olaf in that same period of time.

Taylor said, however, that the numbers do not say how many calls involving college students police responded to at off-campus locations.

Dean Kjerland, who works and lives adjacent to several bars and a late-night pizza parlor, said he believes drunken college students have been a nuisance in the area for a long time. He said young people have yelled at him and repeatedly destroyed his art gallery’s outdoor plantings and furniture.

He said he would like to see the City Council support greater effort to regulate problems associated with late-night drunkenness among those students and others who imbibe and then create a public disturbance by making loud noise or destroying property.

Kjerland said he would support a community-wide education program to “stop rationalizing the alcohol and uncivil behavior as ‘just college

Kneser said that, in his experience, there is a problem with the belief that a person can “drink responsibly” very easily. After two or three drinks, he said, a person’s
judgment has already grown impaired. He also said, statistically, many students have a perception that their friends drink more than they do, and so a student will over-indulge to meet that perceived high expectation.

In the words of the student columnist, Julia Aaker, “We talked a lot about alcohol, a lot about what how much we consumed, but we never really communicated. I was drinking so much because I didn’t know how to communicate that I didn’t want to drink. Even if I had said, ‘I’m not going to drink tonight,’ my words would not have been understood.”

Police charts for Carleton College:



Charts for Saint Olaf:



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