I am under 21, I do not consume alcohol, and I still found it difficult to follow the Code of Ethics (COE).  It is hard not to attend a party with your friends because alcohol is being served to minors, and more challenging when your friends are the ones consuming even though it means you cannot go along.

But that is the position I chose when I joined the New Student Leader (NSL) program.  Over the past two years I grew tremendously, learned a lot about myself, and had the opportunity to build relationships with hundreds in the Fairfield community whom I would not have met otherwise.  No one is suggesting that avoiding the drinking culture is easy, but this commitment had benefits that immensely outweighed any party on campus.

The analysis discussed in last week’s article stated that 90.9 percent of the surveyed NSLs violated the COE and its alcohol policy at least once.  This two question assessment is missing a lot of key information that would detail the extent to which NSLs violated this policy.  It did not test for when NSLs violated the policy, to what degree they have violated or continue to violate the policy, if they were ever caught in violation, and if their behavior had changed over time due to the public and private discussions amongst the team regarding the COE.

One thing that can be extracted from this survey is that the NSLs struggled with the alcohol policy.  It is up to the Leadership Team to better prepare the next group of NSLs.  They must provide the NSLs with clear expectations, a better support system over the course of this effort, and more conversations on the COE in order to normalize the conversation rather than have it feel taboo.

It was also clear from the survey that 97.7 percent of surveyed NSLs supported a proposed change of the alcohol policy to allow NSLs in the presence of underage drinking.  There is no form of student leadership that can condone behavior in which students violate the Student Code of Conduct or that can break a local, state, or federal law.  Being in the presence of underage drinking is counter-intuitive to student leadership.  The COE does not preclude an NSL from socializing or enjoying a weekend.  They are surrounded by dozens of peers who made a commitment to uphold the same ethical standard.  A NSL’s attendance at a private party or at a University-sponsored event that does not advocate underage drinking speaks volumes – just as a NSL’s presence around underage consumption is a silent affirmation of the illegal behavior.

The COE challenges the idea that underage drinking has to be a part of the college experience.  This year’s group stands at 69 members strong, and like every group before them, they are now strangers in March and will transform into a tightly knit team by June’s orientation.  No one forced these students to become NSLs; it was their choice.  There are various opportunities to give back to Fairfield that do not have this standard of ethical leadership.  To a student who wants to be an NSL but does not support the program’s mission, I recommend that she or he find another way to get involved.  To a student that wants to be held to a high ethical standard, be ready for a challenging and rewarding experience.

Eric Lynch was a Co-Chair of New Student Programs between the Fall 2011 and Fall 2012.

Read about the NSL petition for alcohol-policy changes here

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