Tailgating crackdown riles students

Author: Alyson Tomme '02

The hot issue on campus fall semester was tailgating.

The University tried to curb binge drinking the mornings of home football games by inviting state and local police to join the campus Security Police in sweeps of the parking lots popular with tailgaters. They issued hundreds of citations for underage drinking and for violating a rule in du Lac banning students from organizing tailgaters where alcohol is served.

By season’s end the initiative appeared to have succeeded in curbing public drunkenness — “I think we’ve gotten people’s attention,” declared Rex Rakow, director of the campus Security Police — but many students were furious. They saw the move as an assault on their freedom and an attempt to kill a cherished tradition. And there was widespread confusion, at least early on, over interpretation of the rules.

In a full-page letter to campus published in The Observer in early November, Vice President for Student Affairs Mark L. Poorman, CSC, explained that the sweeps were an effort to ensure that football weekends “continue to be what they should be, celebrations of the University’s proud traditions and rich history.”

Alcohol use and abuse, he said, has become the most serious health and safety issue at Notre Dame and on other college campuses. Most students and other fans celebrate responsibly on football weekends, he said, but for some they’ve become “an opportunity to engage in behavior that would not be tolerated at any other time on our campus or anywhere else.”

Rakow acknowledged that the University had received increasing numbers of complaints from alumni and other non-student participants in tailgaters about “outrageous behavior” of fellow tailgaters, including students. In recent years, student tailgating has often focused on drinking to get drunk. Little or no food is served at many of the get-togethers, and drinking games are popular. It’s become common, for instance, to see students “shotgunning” beers, a process in which a key is used to punch a hole in side of a beer can so one can guzzle the contents in seconds, often in competition. “Beer bongs” employ a funnel and tube to similar purpose.

The confusion over enforcement involved a seciton of du Lac that states:

“No student, student organization or University housing facility may organize or sponsor tailgaters on campus or on any adjacent fields or parking lots at any time for the purpose of serving alcoholic beverages.”

This suggested to many students that they were permitted to tailgate as long as they did not organize the event, as long as they complied with Indiana laws regarding alcohol (drinking age 21), and most of all, as long as the tailgater’s purpose was not to merely serve alcohol.

In practice, it was not nearly so clear cut. Several students received tickets for “student tailgating” even though they were of legal drinking age and not drinking to excess. These included a 38-year-old graduate student who was attending an alumni tailgater with an elaborate spread of food and where casual drinking and socializing were taking place.

“It was confusing because du Lac said one thing and students were getting cited for another,” complained senior Keith McLean.

The number of tailgating citations handed out decreased throughout the season as the enforcement personnel and students both gained a better understanding of what behavior the University was trying to curb. And the Office of Residence Life dropped many of the early citations where students may have violated the letter of the rules but not the spirit.

The crackdown on student drunkenness at tailgaters is not temporary, however. Enforcement will continue next season, Rakow said.

“This is definitely where we are headed.”