Responsible Excess?

by Zeke Turner | 2/9/07 6:00am

Winter Carnival is a weekend of excess. Students, chafed by the stress of midterms, take three or four days to bask in the warmth of carefree winter fun and gluttony. This year, however, with Winter Carnival close on the horizon, Associate Director of the Collis Center and Student Activities Eric Ramsey sent a message to representatives of Dartmouth's fraternities and sororities reminding them that there is a limit to their winter excesses after all.

This Friday night, just like every night, the number of registered kegs on campus will be limited to 24. "An unlimited amount of alcohol on campus isn't a good idea ever," says Marcia Kelley, associate dean of the College.

The limitation on kegs doesn't bother me; I understand that the idea of checking the amount of beer on our campus makes a lot of sense for administrators who want us to get more out of our Dartmouth experience than a hangover. However, I am a little perplexed by the number 24.

"Years ago," says Ramsey, "a committee of administrators and students sat down. That's the number that they came up." Such a committee must have been faced with an impossible math equation, juggling myriad variables. Associate Dean Kelly sees the question as, "what's likely to be the most students of legal drinking age on campus, and what's a safe amount of alcohol for that number."

Ultimately, the number 24 was born from funny math and impossible speculation -- and who cares if the number 24 is obsolete today because it certainly was not a perfect calculation to start.

As Dartmouth students, we normally take any sort of restriction on our social lives as a malicious trespass on our God-given right to drink and be merry. But I for one don't feel handicapped by the 24-keg limit in the least.

Most of the kegs that we drink at Dartmouth are 15-gallon kegs of Keystones from Stinson's, which hold almost 2,000 ounces of hopped-up brew. Multiply that number by 24 kegs per night, and then divide it by 12 ounce cups, and you will realize that our keg allowance amounts to about 3,840 cups of beer per night from registered kegs alone. That is about 275 games of shrub, 640 quick-sixes and a veritable feast of stumbling freshman for Safety and Security to devour.

"We're coming at it from a risk-management perspective," says Kelly. But when you really look at the volume associated with the keg limit, the sanction seems like more of a dare than a handicap. For Dartmouth students who consider themselves to be the best and brightest of college student-drinkers, 24-kegs might pique our desire to oust the administration and ourselves by pushing the limits of excess more than it keeps us safe.

Ultimately, the weight of the number 24 is only nominal. The college doesn't communicate with Stinson's or any other local alcohol-distributors and therefore cannot have any real idea of how much alcohol we are or are not drinking. And it would be hypocritical for the College to include underage drinkers in their calculation. What happens in the basement stays in the basement, and the number 24 is the College's best guestimate, selected to suggest responsibility.

"Should there be an endless amount of alcohol on campus," asks Kelly, "or should we help organizations by shutting off the flow?" This question sincerely plagues the administration, and clearly there is no good answer. In the end, we buy our own beer, and we tap our own kegs. We are the only ones who can decide what is reasonable and what is not. "We have to be worried about people's health and safety," says Kelly, "hoping that they make better choices."

This carnival holiday weekend we will all enjoy the chance to relax. The number 24 might even ring in our ears as we bound down basement stairwells into the rabbit hole. Tonight, the administration might be whispering in our ear, but we will be the ones working tap and toasting to midterms. May our excesses be calculated. May our cups overflow responsibly.

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