Admin addresses campus drinking

Jenny Hottle, Online Chief

Concern about student drinking on campus prompted Principal Paul Barker and Vice Principal Gary Scholl to discuss the issue with students during the Nov. 9 health assemblies.

According to Barker, the administration began piecing together rumors of students coming intoxicated to school and school events after receiving information from parents and reports from an advisory group that discussed the problem.

No one has been caught intoxicated during school hours.  Names that have come to the attention of the administration led Barker to believe that the participants are “mostly girls.”  The label “Thirsty Thursdays” is thought to have been created by the students who have been drinking on campus during the day.  Barker is unsure of how widespread the problem is, but he said that “it’s a problem if it’s happening, period.”

Senior Anna DiPaula shared Barker’s opinion about the alcohol problem, adding that drinking reflects negatively on the school’s reputation at events such as football games.  “Drunk students are right in front of the players, and that’s what parents see,” she said.  “Those students give our school a bad reputation and make us look really bad in front of our own parents and other people.”

An anonymous senior, who admitted to drinking during the Nov. 5 football game, expressed concern for the school’s reputation but said that “[Drinking] makes the game more fun.  Plus, the administration is a bit clueless about everything.”

However, according to Barker, the administration knew that some students were drunk but did not have enough evidence to target any specific student as being intoxicated.  “I wish we could have fingered somebody for sure, but we didn’t have anything to go on.  Like I said to the boys [at the health assembly], we know some guys must feel like they got away with it,” he said.

Dean of Students Thomas Vierheller said that if the administration ever perceives that someone is intoxicated, they take immediate action. But when they’re “not sure enough” that a student is drunk, they will not just randomly test someone without reasonable suspicion in order to protect that student’s privacy.

“There’s a level of trust we have with our students,” Vierheller.

Barker supported Vierheller’s trust in the student body.  “The majority of students, the largely silent majority, are good people who make good decisions 99 percent of the time … there’s no reason not to trust them and their decision making,” he said.

With the trust given to these “people of good will” comes a responsibility—to keep the other part of the student body safe, according to Barker.  If a student has knowledge about a peer’s alcohol or substance abuse, Barker stresses that he or she should “tell us who they are.”

But that’s much easier said than done, according to a junior girl who wished to remain anonymous.  “I know people who drink during school.  But even though I’m not really close friends with them, I don’t like the idea of ratting them out,” she said.  “I know a lot of people know about [the people who drink, so I figure that someone else will do something about them, someone who is better friends with them.”

If a student “has knowledge but is not inclined to act on that knowledge, I wonder about that.  It’s a difficult question,” Barker said, admitting that it’s tough for a student to tell on a peer.

While the anonymous junior feels that “the administration should do something about the drinking on school grounds [and] more actively seek out these issues,” she thinks that both students and the administration are responsible for keeping everyone safe.

Barker said that a student who sees a problem has two possible options: he or she can go to the dean to seek disciplinary action against a peer, or the issue can be brought to the attention of guidance where it becomes a John Carroll Assistance Committee (JCAC) matter.

JCAC, according to guidance counselor Carrie Siemsen, “is a group of faculty, counselors, and staff who, with the help of health professionals, work to identify and support students at risk.”  Because the program is not connected to the discipline system, students cannot be punished for being referred or for turning themselves in to JCAC.

“People who are concerned but don’t want to get somebody they know booted out of school, their best path is to go and tell their guidance counselor, ‘I’m worried about so-and-so.  He/she is doing such-and-such.’  That happens a lot.  That’s the most comfortable way [because] your anonymity is 100 percent sure on that,” Barker said.

Both Vierheller and Barker said that it is the responsibility of the students and the administration to address issues such as alcohol abuse in the school community. “We have a moral obligation to each other, and we depend on everybody,” Vierheller said.

Jenny Hottle can be reached for comment at [email protected].