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"I Spoke Up . . . !"

Below is a copy of a letter I wrote to one of my professors (I'm in a graduate program). I wrote in response to a class policy allowing the consumption of alcohol during a break in the middle of our weekly seminar. The professor read parts of the letter to the class, and people immediately agreed to change the policy! The professor also said he would never repeat this mistake . . . . I spoke up, and it had an effect!

Here are some thoughts on the question of having alcohol in class.

I heard from another student that the idea of a keg has been dropped, and that there was some group process about how the issue was handled when I raised an objection to the keg at the end of class last week. So there has been some movement in terms of us functioning as a community and using a difference of opinion as the starting point for dialogue rather than as an ending point (which is how it was left last week). Although this dialogue excluded me, I learned second-hand that it occurred.

I personally don't think alcohol belongs in class in any amount or in any form, for the following reasons: 1) It must be illegal and must involve serious liability issues (what if a student got in a car accident after class?); 2) For any alcoholics or recovering alcoholics it could make attending class a serious challenge, could make them feel further marginalized, would definitely not make them feel part of the community, and would probably silence them more; 3) Alcohol affects how people think and behave. I personally want people fully present and exercising their brains to the fullest capacity.

In addition, I think people should be able to choose whether or not to have contact with alcohol or with people who are drinking, but we don't have a choice about whether we come to class. There are plenty of other opportunities for people to drink socially; class is not a social event. If we are truly interested in building community, we should carefully examine practices which may alienate people. We are starting to do this with issues of gender, race, and class. I think we should include alcoholism and drug abuse as issues to treat sensitively. I don't think alcohol should be treated casually. Again, we don't know who the students are and what they have experienced. Many probably have close friends or family members who have had problems involving alcohol, if they haven't had such problems themselves. As upcoming teachers, I think it's especially important that we learn to be sensitive. We will have students in our classes who have drug or alcohol dependencies, who were born addicted, or whose parents are in jail, dead, or have chemical dependencies. I would rather see teachers learn ways to have fun and create group spirit that are inclusive and not dependent on substances.

It is part of an instructor's job to create a safe classroom community. If that is a goal, I believe it is a mistake to adopt a liberal attitude toward alcohol. I don't recall being asked for input at the beginning of the quarter. On the contrary, D- said people could go get a beer during break, and then bottles of wine started appearing. It's true that it has been small amounts, and it was only the idea of a keg that prompted me to think more carefully about the issue. (I would rather be spending my time thinking about the educational issues raised in the books, which is another reason why I left this one alone until now.)

I suspect that if I object to having alcohol in class there is at least one other person who also does, who may not feel comfortable voicing it. However, even if I am the only one, I think it's important to re-think the policy.

Nancy Faulstich
Santa Cruz, California, USA

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00