"Champagne Steps" Committee

 

Committee Members:

  • Cathy Bevier
  • Patrick Bolland '09
  • Peter Chenevert
  • Jeff Coombs
  • Barbara Moore
  • Mae Ogorzaly '09
  • Kerill O'Neill
  • Katie Todd '10
  • Kate Vasconi '09
  • Kelly Wharton
  • Scott Zeller '09
 

OFFICIAL NOTICE: "Champagne Steps" resolution and campus culture working groups

To the Colby Community:

We write to share news of a recent action that will, we anticipate, have important implications for every member of our community.

Following recommendations made by the members of Colby's senior administrative staff, the Board of Trustees has adopted this resolution:

 "Resolved: That the College shall terminate the 'Champagne Steps' celebration and take any and all measures to eliminate the excessive drinking that has come to characterize the way in which Colby seniors celebrate the end of their four years of study at the College. Further, the board charges the administration of the College to address comprehensively the broader issue of excessive drinking as a feature of Colby student life."

 "Champagne Steps," which began as an opportunity for students and faculty to toast one another with a glass of champagne, has over the years degenerated into a day-long occasion for members of the graduating class to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and to flout community norms. This year's event was marked by enough transports to nearly overwhelm the MaineGeneral emergency room. It also saw extensive damage to the Alfond Apartments, among other Colby facilities. Many faculty now routinely cancel classes and depart campus on the last day of classes, wanting no part of an annual ritual that sours and devalues their accomplishments and those of the graduating class.

 These behaviors do not reflect our values as a community or the level of excellence to which we collectively -- students, faculty, trustees, administrators, and staff -- aspire. Therefore, we are calling on all constituencies in the Colby community to help us re-imagine social life on Mayflower Hill in the absence of alcohol abuse, and I am establishing two working groups to tackle specific aspects of Colby's culture as it relates to the use of alcohol.

The first group, to consist of student, faculty, and administrative representatives, will recommend appropriate and effective measures to eliminate the "Champagne Steps" event and any similar event that might be mounted to observe the end of the semester. These measures - as well as the resolution and the work of the group - will be publicized frequently and broadly, such that no Colby constituency can miss the message that "Champagne Steps" is over.

 The second, and larger, group will consist of students, trustees, administrators, parents, and faculty and will be chaired by Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Terhune. It will propose the means by which the College can address the more systemic abuse of alcohol in student social life at the College and how Colby students, trustees, faculty, and staff can assist the College administration in addressing the issue of excessive drinking at Colby.

This effort is of critical importance to Colby and to all who live and work here. We look forward to working with all of you toward its full success.

Sincerely,

William D. Adams, President
Joseph F. Boulos '68, Chair of the Board of Trustees

 
Charge to Campus Culture Working Group

To:        Campus Culture Working Group
From:     William D. Adams
Date:     September 25, 2008
Re:        Group Charge

Like most other colleges and universities in the United States, Colby has a social culture heavily predicated on the overuse of alcohol. Studies have shown that Colby students are exposed early in their college careers to binge drinking as an acceptable social activity and that those who choose to indulge heavily in alcohol do so to the detriment of their academic performance. Further, students who drink moderately or who don't drink are unduly affected by a culture that uses alcohol as its social engine, since they are forced to deal with the consequences of their peers' behavior.

Colby's trustees, administration, faculty, and students have mounted many efforts over the years to shift the College's alcohol-based culture and to create an environment based on optimal opportunities to pursue education and a complementary social life – one that includes moderate and respectful use of alcohol for those who wish to use it and are of lawful age. These efforts have led to many positive changes at Colby. However, the problems and consequences of alcohol abuse persist on Mayflower Hill.

Most recently, in May 2008, hundreds of students gathered for what has become, over the past decade, an annual event at Colby – the celebration of the last day of classes by the graduating class on the Miller Library steps. This tradition, which began innocuously enough as an opportunity for students to toast one another with a glass of champagne, has over the years degenerated into a day-long excuse for members of the graduating class to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and to flout community norms. This year's event was marked by enough transports to the MaineGeneral emergency room to qualify the facility as a disaster site and by extensive damage to the Alfond Apartments, among other Colby facilities. Many faculty now cancel classes and flee campus on the last day of classes, wanting no part of an annual melee that sours and devalues their accomplishments and those of the graduating class.

This is not the community Colby faculty, administrators, and staff wish to work in, nor, we are convinced, the one in which most students would choose to live. Therefore, I am calling on all constituencies in the Colby community to help us re-imagine social life on Mayflower Hill in the absence of alcohol abuse, and I am establishing two working groups to tackle specific aspects of Colby's culture as it relates to the use of alcohol.

The overarching missions of the two groups are contained in a resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees following recommendations made by me and Colby's other senior administrators:

Resolved: That the College shall terminate the "Champagne Steps" celebration and take any and all measures to eliminate the excessive drinking that has come to characterize the way in which Colby seniors celebrate the end of their four years of study at the College. Further, the board charges the administration of the College to address comprehensively the broader issue of excessive drinking as a feature of Colby student life.

The first group, to consist of student, faculty, and administrative representatives, will recommend appropriate and effective measures to eliminate the "champagne steps" event and any other such event that might be mounted to observe the end of the semester. These measures – as well as the resolution and the work of the group – will be publicized frequently and broadly, such that no Colby constituency can miss the message that "champagne steps" is finished.

The second, and larger, group will consist of students, trustees, administrators, and faculty and will be chaired by Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Terhune. It will propose the means by which the College can address the more systemic abuse of alcohol in student social life at the College, and how Colby students, trustees, faculty, and staff can assist the College administration in addressing the issue of excessive drinking at Colby.

Some of the questions the larger group might consider are:

  • How can we create a climate on campus that encourages and supports open and honest dialogue among all College constituencies about the high-risk drinking culture at Colby and its consequences for life on Mayflower Hill?
  • Since high-risk drinking behavior is largely a student issue, what steps can be taken to encourage students to lead in efforts to address such behavior?
  • Since ever-increasing numbers of Colby students seek "chem-free" living environments and are interested in social options that are not focused on alcohol, why is this perspective all but completely absent from conversations about the major social "traditions" of the College (e.g., playing drinking games, "loudness" events, doghead, and champagne steps)?
  • How do mixed messages in the society at large and on the campus affect student drinking behavior? What steps might be taken with respect to alcohol use at Colby-sponsored events (for alumni, employees, visitors, and of-age students) in order to "descramble" the messages we send?
  • What roles can faculty and staff, alumni, and families play in changing high-risk drinking culture?
  • In empanelling this working group, Colby seeks to take the conversation about high-risk drinking among students to previously unexplored places. In that spirit, what bold and creative approaches might we devise to combat high-risk drinking and its consequences in our community?
 
Champagne Steps Working Group Progress Report, December 1, 2008:

The Champagne Steps Working Group has met regularly since mid-September.  In accordance with the charge given to us by President Adams and the Board of Trustees, to recommend appropriate and effective measures to eliminate the "champagne steps" event and any other such event that might be mounted to observe the end of the semester, the working group has developed a working definition and policy for Champagne Steps, as follows:

Definition and Policy:

Students will face severe penalties for holding, planning or attending any unsanctioned, celebratory "end of college career" event, on or off campus that involves, or make likely, excessive drinking and/or public displays of disorder/drunkenness that may be disruptive or harmful to the individuals, others, and/or the community

Consequences:

Violation of the Champagne Steps Policy will result in automatic loss of Senior Week.  Additional sanctions will be severe and could include:  loss of privilege to participate in Commencement, withholding of credentials and transcripts up to six months, damage compensation, suspension, removal  from elected or appointed campus leadership activities, and expulsion.

Violations of the Champagne Steps policy will be handled on an individual basis by the Dean of Students Office. 

Implementation and Communication Plan:

The working group has outlined the following phases for communicating and implementing the above policy.

Phase 1: Sharing information about the Champagne Steps policy. 

The working group will provide information to students and parents about Champagne Steps and the consequences for violating policy. This will happen via General and Official announcements and formal letters home to family. 

Phase 2: Encouraging student feedback and participation in the implementation of policy and for the planning of an alternative to the Champagne Steps.

The working group will continue to share information with the campus and community. Meetings and focus groups with campus constituencies will be conducted to provide updates and to request feedback. Specifically, the working group will be encouraging student participation in the development and planning of an alternative to the Champagne Steps.

Phase 3: Student responsibility and follow up communication regarding the policy

The working group will work with student leadership to reach each student individually to ensure communication about policy. The working group will communicate with parents and the community.

Phase 4: Ensuring the success of the implementation plan

The working group will work with on and off campus constituencies to ensure that the last weeks of the academic year will be a success.

We welcome your thoughts and feedback.  Please feel free to contact Barbara Moore (bemoore@colby.edu) or CCWG's email account: campusculturewg@colby.edu – please type Champagne Steps Working group in the subject line.

 
Frequently Asked Questions

 

The Champagne Steps Working Group has received numerous inquiries from students regarding the elimination of the Champagne Steps and, over the last several weeks, we have noticed students asking many of the same questions. To facilitate communication and clarify understanding of the Champagne Steps policy we have prepared the FAQ below. Members of the Champagne Steps Working Group will continue to meet with students, respond to the questions we receive, and add to this FAQ. We invite you to meet with us in person or contact us the Dean of Students Office (dosoffice@colby.edu, 859-4250) or the Office of Campus Life by phone or email (campus.life@colby.edu, 859-4280) with any additional questions you may have.

 

Why was the “Champagne Steps” celebration abolished?

 

 “Champagne Steps” had over time become a day-long high risk drinking event for large numbers of seniors.  The behaviors exhibited on the steps were increasingly irresponsible as the amount of alcohol students consumed in advance of the Steps event grew significantly.  The College’s action in ending the Steps event is focused on reducing the high-risk drinking that has come to define how seniors mark the end of their time at the College, and eliminating the large-scale event that seems to encourage the irresponsible and dangerous behavior exhibited by intoxicated students in past years.

 

 

Questions about an alternative event:

 

Is there another event planned for the last day of classes?

For the past several months, a group of students has been working on developing a student led event for the last day of classes. They have actively sought input from all students interested in participating in the planning process, and continue to welcome additional ideas from fellow students. If you would like to be part of this planning group, please email campus.life@colby.edu.  Beginning on Wednesday, April 8th, the senior class will be surveyed for their input on the event.  Following that survey, a survey will then be given to the underclassmen for their input.  Once the surveys are complete, the student group will move forward to create an end of classes celebration to take place the afternoon of May 8th. 

 

Will there be alcohol at the alternative event for the last day of classes?

The point of the event on the last day of classes will be to provide an opportunity for the senior class to come together and celebrate the end of their four years of study at Colby. Alcohol will not be the central focus of the event, however, appropriate use of alcohol by students of legal drinking age, within the context of the event, will be permitted.  But, as outlined by the Champagne Steps Working Group, “excessive drinking and/or public displays of disorder/drunkenness that may be disruptive or harmful to the individuals, others, and/or the community” will be prohibited.

 

 

Questions about parties on the last day of classes:

 

Does the Champagne Steps policy mean that students cannot have parties on the last day of classes?

No.  Students may have parties.  But both hosts and attendees are responsible for their own behavior and for the safety and well-being of everyone at the parties.  Safe, legal, and responsible use of alcohol within the College’s alcohol policies is absolutely permissible.  Parties must be registered and both hosts and attendees are accountable for their actions. Students who are interested in having parties should speak with the Campus Life Office about how to do so within College policy.

 

Am I not allowed to have champagne with friends in my room?

Students of legal drinking age who want to drink champagne with their friends in private rooms may do so. But, no alcohol can be consumed outdoors except in the context of a registered party with established boundaries as permitted by the Office of Campus Life. Again, the primary issue is not whether one drinks, or what one drinks. What matters is that students who choose to drink do so responsibly and do not endanger themselves, their fellow students or anyone else.

 

What if our last day of classes is Thursday (Wed, etc)? Can we do Steps/ Celebrate then?

No. The irresponsible behavior exhibited at past Steps events were increasingly dangerous as the amount pre-event drinking by students grew.  The College’s action in ending the Steps celebration is focused on   reducing the high-risk drinking that has come to define how seniors mark the end of their time at the College, and eliminating the large-scale event that seems to encourage the irresponsible and dangerous behavior by extremely intoxicated students.  Simply moving the same event to a different day is not permissible.

 

 

Questions about the rules:

 

What do the rules actually prohibit?

The rules regarding the elimination of Steps are identical to the College’s policy on alcohol and unregistered parties, with one notable exception. And that is the possibility of a student losing the right to participate in senior week and commencement for engaging in irresponsible, high-risk, dangerous drinking.  Students with questions about specific activities or events they would like to organize should contact the Office of Campus Life and obtain permission ahead of time.  We encourage students to celebrate the end of their time at Colby in a safe and responsible manner.

 

Why is the “Steps” policy so vague?

The policy is actually very straight forward: “Students will face severe penalties for holding, planning or attending any unsanctioned, celebratory ‘end of college career’ event, on or off campus, that involves, or makes likely, excessive drinking and/or public displays of disorder/drunkenness that may be disruptive or harmful to the individuals, others, and/or the community.”

 

Any student with questions about the policy and/or end of the year events should contact the Dean of Students Office or the Office of Campus Life. 

 

 

Questions about sanctions:

 

If I have a house party off-campus is that ok? What if there is an off campus party on the last day of classes?   Will we get in trouble?

Students who are off-campus are subject Colby policy as well as the same laws and expectations as residents of the local community.  Accordingly, students who are of legal drinking age and want to host parties with alcohol are certainly free to do so as long as they do not “involve excessive drinking and/or public displays of disorder/drunkenness that may be disruptive or harmful to the individuals, others, and/or the community.”

 

Is expulsion a possible consequence for violating the Champagne Steps Policy?

Students will not be expelled simply for drinking champagne on the steps.  Violations of the steps policy that also include serious breaches of law and/or Colby policy (assaults, serious drug or alcohol violations, etc.) may be punishable by expulsion. The College is very serious about ending the dangerous and negative behaviors associated with Champagne Steps and will hold violators accountable in serious ways.

 

If I receive an open container citation during last day of classes, will I lose Senior Week or more?

Consistent with Colby’s Student Handbook, the severity of the sanction will be dictated by the specific behavior and circumstances of particular violations.  The best course of action is not to violate the rules.  More serious violators (e.g. but not limited to those who vandalize property, act in physically violent or verbally abusive ways to others) could be suspended and have the awarding of their degrees withheld until the end of the period of suspension.

 

If I lose Senior Week, will my registration fee be refunded?

No.

 

Will I get in trouble if I am an underclassman? With such strict regulations for seniors, how will underclassmen be punished for similar behavior?

The policy applies to all Colby students regardless of class year.   

 

Will students  taken to the hospital for alcohol intoxication during last day of classes through Loudness, lose senior week or more even if it is not related to the former "Steps"?

While each incident will be reviewed on a case by case basis by the Dean of Students Office the most likely answer is yes. The primary reason that the Steps celebration was eliminated is to reduce the irresponsible high-risk/dangerous drinking associated with it. Seniors who engage in this sort of dangerous drinking behavior may be subject to sanctions under the Steps policy.

 

Can the College really withhold the awarding of my degree?

Yes. Students can be suspended from the College for behavioral violations that occur prior to graduation even if they have met all their academic requirements and the awarding of their degrees may be withheld until the end of the period of suspension.

 

 

Questions about the Miller Steps

 

Can we go to the Steps and celebrate without alcohol? Can I congregate on the Steps during anytime if I don't have alcohol on me?  What if we are just having a casual gathering outside with friends with no alcohol, but we might have consumed it earlier?

Students are reminded that the Steps decision is intended to reduce the irresponsible high-risk drinking that has come to define how seniors mark the end of their time at the College, and eliminate the large-scale event that seems to encourage irresponsible and dangerous behavior by extremely intoxicated students.  There are many possible circumstances in which the answer to the above questions could be yes or no.  Students are encouraged to use good judgment and if you have questions about a specific situation, ask.  We invite you to meet with us in person or contact us the Dean of Students Office (dosoffice@colby.edu, 859-4250) or the Office of Campus Life phone or email (campus.life@colby.edu, 859-4280) with any additional questions you may have.

 

 

Can we drink anything even if it's not Champagne on the Miller Steps?

In compliance with state laws and local ordinances as well as Colby’s Alcohol Policy, alcohol cannot be consumed outdoors on campus except in the context of a registered party with established boundaries (in other words, you can’t drink alcohol outside anywhere on campus).  Again, the primary issue is not whether one drinks, or what one drinks.  What matters is whether they are doing so in ways that do not cause problems (i.e. safe, legal, and responsible).

 

 

Additional questions:

 

Does the termination of Champagne Steps interfere with Senior Week?

The termination of the Champagne Steps should not interfere with Senior Week.  Seniors are reminded that the Steps decision is intended to reduce the irresponsible high-risk drinking that has come to define how seniors mark the end of their time at the College, and eliminate the large-scale event that seems to encourage irresponsible and dangerous behavior by extremely intoxicated students. Seniors who violate the Champagne Steps termination policy will lose Senior Week.

 

What happens if we have champagne on campus outside at a different location?

Don’t.  No alcohol can be consumed outdoors on campus except in the context of a registered party with established boundaries (in other words, you can’t drink alcohol outside anywhere on campus).