A Healthy “Wet” Campus in the Mennonite Tradition

becca_longeneckerEMU is founded on a long-standing religious tradition, one that has had a poor relationship with alcohol in the last hundred years, so to today’s Mennonites, accepting alcohol back into the community seems like a move away from, and even against, that core and founding tradition. But I would argue that the founding tradition of the Mennonite faith is, ironically, the act of straying from tradition.

The Anabaptist movement was a radical stance against the tradition of baptism at birth, and, as any conscientious objector will tell you, choosing not to participate in military combat is just as radical and just as unpopular. The Mennonites have been standing up for their lifestyle for a long time.

Allow me to continue the tradition of our respected ancestors and take a stand for the Mennonite lifestyle of today by proposing that alcohol be allowed on the campus of this university.

Many Mennonites grew up with an understanding that alcohol is synonymous with gluttony and laziness, two of the seven sins that work in opposition to the Mennonite values of moderation, hard work, and achievement. While alcohol can lead to both laziness and gluttony, these are only part of the truth about alcohol.

Like so many things in life, there are healthy approaches and there are unhealthy approaches. When alcohol is used responsibly it can be a wonderful social lubricant, easing up tensions and insecurities and bringing people together over a shared experience. In other words, alcohol can help create community, which is no easy task — as anyone, myself included as a previous Northlawn CA, will tell you.

It is also equally as true that alcohol is capable of disrupting community. Take for example my extended family. We love each other very much, and my grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles have done a great job of modeling community for me my whole life. But one of my aunts is alcoholic, and family gatherings are always tainted by the constant worry about where my aunt is, what she is doing, if she is planning on driving home, or how many jobs she has lost this year because she showed up to work with booze on her breath. Alcohol can be destructive not only to individuals who fail to use it respon- sibly, but also to the people who care about them.

The other way in which alcohol can be destructive is by making loved ones who choose not to use alcohol uncomfortable. Because of my aunt’s alcohol problem my mom abstains from drinking, something I didn’t notice until I turned 21 and my dad bought me a beer for the first time. My mom ordered water, and from the moment the beer arrived at the table, there was a palpable tension. At the time I was unsure why, but Mom was upset. She was thrown by my casual entrance into the world of alcohol and scared that the milk stout I wanted so badly to enjoy was threatening to disrupt our family all over again.

These kinds of stories are important for us to acknowledge, but on a campus where alcohol is not even a possibility, it is incredibly difficult to talk about experiences with alcohol, both negative and positive. There is a culture of fear on our campus, fear that one might be targeted and searched, suspended from school, or made to sit through a “restorative process” that forces students to deny their own feelings and forgo their own perspectives in order to “restore” their relationship with Residence Life.

Being reintegrated into the community means admitting you were wrong. But is there anything inherently wrong with alcohol in and of itself? Shouldn’t students be confronted about destructive behavior rather than mere possession?

The current reality is that students do purchase and consume alcohol, and consumption occurs on campus. Students need an environment where they can talk about alcohol so that they can hold each other accountable to responsible consumption and develop healthy drinking habits. I would like to see EMU become a place where these kinds of conversations are encouraged.

This university aims to nurture the growth of young adults, to create global leaders to serve in a global context. Global context means within the Mennonite community and outside of it, and outside of the Mennonite community, people are drinking alcohol.

With no prior exposure and no preached or practiced drinking culture to base their behavior on, students may find themselves in dangerous situations because all it takes is one time being a little too out of control to end up in a bad situation.

What I am proposing is that of- age students who live in upperclassmen campus housing – Hillside and Parkwoods – be permitted to have alcohol in their places of residence. If we allow students to be honest about their lifestyles, we can engage in a real conversation on campus about what healthy drinking looks like, model healthy drinking for younger students, and get to the students who truly do need help faster.

Let’s not perpetuate the culture of silence. Let’s have a healthy conversation about how to enjoy alcohol.

-Becca Longenecker, Contributing Writer


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