A word of caution as the semester begins

Move-In is just a few days away, and it is time for my annual cautionary tale. As our new first-year students go through New Deac Week, our upperclass students will also be returning to campus.  That means our new students will start hearing about parties that older students are throwing. All students under 21 need to think carefully and make wise choices.

There is not a college town anywhere whose local law enforcement isn’t acutely aware of when school starts. With new students comes a potential crop of underage drinkers who could run afoul of the “21 and over” law to drink. Law enforcement is ready.

Underage students will have opportunities to go to parties/tailgates/bars. Please talk to your underage students now and remind them that they need to be careful – both physically careful with what they put in their bodies, and careful in terms of the potential risky situations in which they might find themselves.  I’ll focus on a few risks in certain situations, but please have some last minute conversations – especially with our ’23 Deacs – about your family’s values regarding alcohol and other substances and your expectations for your student’s behavior.

I say this every year, and every year it comes true: I can set my watch to the fact that within a week or two of school starting, I will get a late night text telling me that there is a large group of students who are being cited for underage drinking at an off campus location.  There is no reason to think this year will be different.

Typically students get busted at off campus residences. A good rule of thumb is if you are at a place where there are tons of students standing around in the front yard/back yard with red solo cups in hand, or a million parked cars, the neighbors are going to think it is a party and call the police. If the police do come to bust a party, every student present could potentially be cited for underage possession. And to add insult to injury, jurisdiction for off campus violations is the purview of city police, not campus police. So instead of just having an issue with our Student Conduct office, students who get cited could also have an official City of Winston-Salem issue.

Here is my best advice for anyone with students underage, but especially for our P’23 new families:

Talk to your ’23 Deacs about following the New Deac Week schedule. If they hear about a party and it conflicts with regular orientation programming, they should not go to the party. New Deac Week events help bond our new class to each other and to keep them engaged in meaningful activities. I promise your students that there will be PLENTY of time after the semester begins to meet upperclassmen and go to parties if they wish.

Talk to your Deacs about making smart choices. Off campus gatherings with tons of students means a high likelihood of ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) stopping by. Be sure your Deac isn’t making dangerous personal decisions and/or is not cited for underage drinking, trying to use a fake ID (which ups the ante in terms of punishment), etc. If your Deac is not drinking, and is not in possession of alcohol, logic says he/she is not likely to be cited. Past history suggests that ALE will be especially vigilant the first few weeks of school, and the first few football games.

Your Deacs are going through so many important transitions as they begin school, and there can be a lot of anxiety about the coursework, finding a friend group, etc. Your Deacs DO NOT want to add to that stress by having to call you and tell you that on their first weekend (or even first night – I’ve seen that too) away from home, they now have a citation with the local police and a conduct hearing on campus. “Um, Mom, I might need a lawyer…” is no way to start the semester. Getting in trouble early places tremendous strain and pressure on students. No one wants the start of college soured by a bad decision. So please urge them not to put themselves in a situation where they are likely to face an unpleasant consequence.

Talk to your Deac about being vigilant about personal safety.  Making smart choices also means not going to some location you are not familiar with and walking home alone at 2 am.  Winston-Salem has Uber, which many students use. There is also the old “Buddy system” of going places in groups and not leaving anyone behind.  So make sure you talk to your Deac about maximizing their safety and not doing things that are risky.  Some tips are here.

I say this not to alarm you, but to arm you with information that might help save your Deacs some pain later. Our new students will be involved in many orientation sessions about safety and high risk behavior, but hearing from Mom, Dad, or loved ones about your expectations is a good reminder as you get ready to bring them to campus. It is not a time to lecture them, but to explain that they will be in a new situation, with new nuances and rules they may not be aware of, and you want to help them think before they act so that they have the best outcomes possible.

PS – Every year I write on this topic, I get at least one parent/family members who emails me and says “I wish my Deac had listened to this!”


— by Betsy Chapman ’92, MA ’94

Categories: campus lifethe daily deac

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