Social Host Law panel receives varied response

Geneseo’s Student Association organized a panel discussion on Tuesday Feb. 2 about the Village of Geneseo’s Social Host Law. Held in response to student outcry over the regulation and its enforcement during Halloween weekend, the forum featured a number of Village and school officials. Enacted in April 2015, the Social Host Law “holds persons responsible for knowingly allowing underage drinking to occur on their property.” Repercussions include fines of up to $500 or up to 15 days in jail and all offenders must complete a court-approved drug and alcohol awareness program.

After an introduction and brief presentation from SA President senior Andrew Hayes and Inter Greek Council president junior Julia Mackey explaining the law and its effects, chair of the College Senate associate professor of physics James McLean began the panel as moderator. Mclean noted that “it was really the Student Association that put this all together, so [the students] have them to thank.”

The panel consisted of six members: Geneseo Attorney John Lockhart, Geneseo Justice Thomas Bushnell, Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian, Alcohol and Other Drug Program Coordinator Sarah Covell, Village Mayor Richard Hatheway and Dean of Students and Director for the Center of Community Leonard Sancilio. Before answering audience questions, the moderator conducted a discussion of example situations that could result in execution of the law.

Described as a gathering where “underage drinkers come to the party, but are already intoxicated,” this scenario garnered what Osganian called a “simple solution:” telling students to call the police. He further implied that the host would not be punished in this scenario. “We can remove them from the party for you and ascertain where they were drinking ourselves,” he said.

Lockhart, however, disagreed. “I think the question is whether the police can write a [Social Host] citation in this scenario and I think the answer is definitely yes,” he said.

For the remainder of the forum, McLean directed discussion among panelists using a predetermined list of questions. Audience members were required to submit any additional questions through an Internet submission form. Students were not allowed to directly ask questions.

The moderator began by inquiring whether the Social Host Law conflicts with the Good Samaritan policy, wherein a student could call 911 for an intoxicated person and not have to face the repercussions of his or her own intoxication.

“The Good Samaritan policy itself doesn’t pertain to the Social Host Law in how I read it,” Osganian said. “It seems silly to me that someone would die because of a ticket.”

Hatheway explained the reasoning behind the passage of the law as a means to better serve Geneseo as a whole in terms of curbing underage drinking. “It was passed after looking into means of improving the lives of people in the community,” he said. “The police have difficulty in some instances figuring out who gave the underage person alcohol. This gives the police another tool in trying to prevent alcohol consumption.”

Subsequently, the panel was asked whether they believed the Social Host Law would cause a rise in drinking.

“It’s too early to know whether this is going to affect anything in Geneseo,” Covell said.  “There is some research in California … where there was a 9 percent decrease in driving while intoxicated in those areas [with social host laws].”

“I don’t think people are drinking more because of this law,” Bushnell added.

When asked whether or not it would be better for students to “just drink on campus,” where the Social Host Law doesn’t have effect, Osganian answered, “You should drink on campus then. There are more resources on campus [for students].”

Sancilio made sure to correct Osganian, noting that students can still suffer consequences for underage drinking on campus. “If you are an underage person and you drink on campus, you will still be found in violation of our code of conduct,” he said.

Approximately 110 people attended the forum with the majority representing their sororities, fraternities and sport teams. Mackey required two members of every Greek organization to attend the event.

Mackey noted that she perceived students to be frustrated with the forum due to the way answers were presented. “I think the panel was observed as mainly neutral, although a lot of the information presented seemed to be received negatively by the audience,” she said. “I think people thought their questions were danced around.”

Junior mathematics and adolescent education major Oliver Kane reiterated this sentiment. He attended the panel with fellow Alpha Chi Rho fraternity brothers in order to get a better understanding of what is expected of students.

“I thought they missed the mark in whatever they were trying to do,” he said. “They seemed to preach the idea of fostering a better relationship between our campus and the town but I think they did the opposite of that.”

Kane expressed specific concern with the panel’s approach to a question-answer session.

“They tried to use questions that they thought students would ask, but it wasn’t actually questions students wanted to ask,” he said. “It was easier for them to answer questions the way they want to.”

At the conclusion of the panel’s discussion, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio gave closing remarks.

“I think we heard a lot of different things tonight that underscore the complexity of this,” he said. “We can only improve this situation by continuing a dialogue.”