CHRIS BULFINCH ’18
Tailgating with alcohol will not be allowed in the parking lot adjacent to the athletic field at the end of Vernon Street for Homecoming this year, according to Dean of Student Life Joe DiChristina and Trinity’s Administration. An official announcement was released Monday Oct. 31 detailing the new policy, which has already proven controversial among students and alumni. Student leaders are particularly critical of the policy, as they were only appraised of the decision in the past week.
In past years, a prominent feature of Homecoming is tailgating, as it is on college campuses across the nation. Historically, tailgating has occurred in the parking lot next to the Hansen dorm, in the parking lot near Ferris Athletic Center, and in the parking lot at the end of Vernon Street next to the field hockey field.
The administration’s policy towards the Hansen lot has been to restrict its use for tailgating to alumni who have been graduated for ten years or more; these alumni must register their tailgate with the college, and undergraduates are not allowed to attend unless they can legally drink and are in some way affiliated with an individual tailgate. Tailgates must also declare a certain amount of alcohol, proportional to the number of people involved.
The Ferris lot has historically been used by competing sports teams, making the lot at the end of Vernon the go-to for more general alumni festivities. Tailgates at this location had to be registered as well. Trinity’s administration has made no noticeable effort to prevent it in the past.
DiChristina, having witnessed “a significant amount of underage drinking” and “a significant amount of alcohol that was not supposed to be there,” at last year’s Homecoming, decided to make efforts to curb the effects of public alcohol consumption at Homecoming this year. He expressed the fact that such episodes as alums and students being intoxicated around campus, the three hospitalizations that resulted from intoxication, and instances of public urination were of “of extreme concern to [him].”
He further made note of Trinity’s compliance with Connecticut state law and the College’s ban on underage drinking.
The new policy will allow tailgating in the lot at the end of Vernon Street, but any tailgating must be alcohol-free. The policy, which will go into effect for this year’s Homecoming celebrations, was conceived after last year’s Homecoming and was finalized in the first weeks of this term.
DiChristina acknowledged that no students, parents, or alumni had been consulted about the policy in any serious capacity. Administrators and others involved in Campaign for Community were aware of DiChristina’s plan since the summer, according to Molly Thoms ’17, a member of the Campaign’s Core Student Leadership Team. No presentation of the idea, formal or otherwise, was given to the School Pride working group, which was tasked with retooling Homecoming.
Three weeks before Homecoming, DiChristina informed Trinity’s Inter-Greek Council (IGC) of the decision, prompting immediate criticism from Trinity’s Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs). In a letter penned to the Facebook group “Alumni for a Better Trinity College,” Evan Scollard ’17, IGC President, wrote “Dean Joe is imposing this ban arbitrarily and without any timely notice…he wants the Greek houses to absorb all of the responsibility and host the tailgaters ourselves, which is an undue burden and unfair to alumni who were unaffiliated with fraternities during their time here.” DiChristina denied any such attempt to shift responsibility.
At a meeting on Sunday with Trinity’s Student Government Association (SGA), DiChristina appraised the student representatives of the decision. The meeting, which dealt solely with the new decision, lasted close to an hour and a half, a full 30 minutes longer than typical SGA meetings. Dean DiChristina clarified that, “I am not there to ask you to change my mind, I wanted to share what I was thinking and why I was thinking it.” At the SGA meeting, DiChristina passed out sheets detailing data of cases of alcohol abuse on Trinity’s campus, in addition to elaborating upon the problem of alcohol abuse nationwide.
SGA members registered their reservations about the policy, as well as their chagrin about the fact that SGA was only being consulted a week before Homecoming about such a change; Dean DiChristina stated his belief in the value of collaborative work and invited SGA to be part of a larger campus dialogue about the issue of alcohol abuse and drinking culture. He further apologized for his tardiness in informing student leaders and other constituencies on campus, citing difficult scheduling and the fact that establishing a connection between nationwide data and Trinity’s Homecoming was apparently a long process.
After a number of meetings in the past weeks with DiChristina and other members of Trinity’s administration to voice student opposition to the policy, Ryan Miller ’17 and Dana Wensberg ’18, the SGA’s President and Vice President, respectively, made clear their desire for constructive and forward-thinking dialogue, choosing not to debate the decision but to state their criticisms and grievances to inform Trinity’s administration of SGA’s desire to be an effectual body. Criticisms ranged from practical questions of enforcement and logistical planning to remarks about the inevitability of alcohol consumption and the inconvenience caused to many GLOs and other campus organizations that count on the end of Vernon Street tailgate as a way to connect with their respective alumni.
DiChristina reflected that “there are athletic events to attend – that should be the focus of Homecoming,” and that the new policy was intended to “deemphasize the need to drink at an early time on a Saturday,” as well as “making alcohol less a part of the experience.”
The alcohol-free tailgate has proven controversial among Trinity’s alumni as well. In the Facebook group “Alumni for a Better Trinity College,” beneath a post containing the text of Scollard’s letter, a number of alumni expressed their dismay and disagreement with the new policy. Dave Lenahan called the policy “draconian and insensitive,” in addition to “a pathetic ivory-tower liberal affront to the real world.” Donald Callaghan called it a “mess and embarrassment,” while Robert Bibow characterized the new policy as “chasing alumni away.” Len Heinrich said “my checkbook is closed.”
Comments on Facebook drew parallels to former President Jones’ White Paper initiative, an attempt to make all GLOs co-ed that alienated many alumni. Kimberly McDermott Esty expressed that “Having visited that lot for the last few Homecomings, I’m happy something is being done. To say it’s been a gross s**t show in that lot is an understatement.” She elaborated, “however, perhaps a better solution is having campus safety set rules/guidelines, and then have patrols.”
DiChristina sent an email yesterday appraising the Trinity community of the new policy. Referencing last year’s “excessive” alcohol consumption, Dean DiChristina communicated that tailgates were expected to break up around halftime. “Campus Safety and college administrators will be present and will encourage those tailgating to attend the football game,” the email read.
Yesterday evening, Ryan Miller and other members of the SGA met in the Cave to pen an open letter to Trinity’s administration expressing their concerns and reservations about the new policy and lack of consultation with student representatives.
The Trinity administration’s contentious decision to make the parking lot at the end of Vernon Street an alcohol-free zone is a way to get the College out of what DiChristina termed “a difficult bind.” The new policy intends to ameliorate issues of underage drinking and alcohol-fueled debauchery, even over loud protests from a number of constituencies; its ultimate effectiveness and results remain to be seen.
CHRIS BULFINCH ’18