Prospective students get to see college night life

By Ted Clement

Dan McGovern ’08 always tries to make prospective first-year students (PFs) feel comfortable during their overnight visits to Macalester. For McGovern, who says he drinks “a couple of beers” every night, being inclusive means offering guests alcohol.

“If you don’t want to be rude,” McGovern said, “you’d offer him a beer.”

For some student hosts, putting PFs in situations where they are likely to drink can become a source of frustration, and can even ruin a night.

Mandi Masden ’08 once had to bike around St. Paul to look for a PF who had gotten left behind at an off-campus party. Now she spells out specific rules for her PFs to follow because they “are technically living in my house for a couple days,” she said.

The admissions office encourages PFs to stay on campus overnight. Admissions counselor Nora Main ’02, who coordinates overnight stays, believes spending a night in a dorm room with a current student is the most effective way for a prospective student to experience the college.

“It’s a way for them to find out for themselves that we’ve been telling them the truth [about Macalester],” Main said.

Every academic year, approximately 600 high school juniors and seniors stay on campus overnight, according to the admissions office.

Admissions does not expressly forbid hosts from drinking with their PFs. Instead, hosts receive a memorandum from the admissions hosting coordinators asking them to “PLEASE USE GOOD JUDGEMENT in choosing activities.”

Associate Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, who oversees the office of Residential Life, said Macalester’s standard of trusting individuals to act responsibly is “not an uncommon guiding principle.”

There is a balance between giving students the freedom to make responsible decisions and encouraging them to abide by state and federal laws, Hoppe said.

Hoppe also said that having excessive rules encourages individuals to further push the limits.

“We generally try to set the standard that’s going to be best for the community,” he said. “[There is] no one standard that’s going to fit everybody.”

McGovern says most of his PFs either choose not to drink, or know their limits and don’t get out of control. Still, some visitors drink too much.

One male PF who visited during a spring sampler last year got drunk and “attached himself” to a girl, “hitting on her and saying ridiculously chauvinistic things,” according to McGovern.

“We were concerned,” McGovern said. “He was really over the line.”

According to the memorandum students receive when they volunteer to host a PF, if a visitor gets drunk or out of hand, hosts are advised to let them know that what they are doing is inappropriate.

The memorandum reads: “Know that you are not responsible for the PF’s behavior. However, we do need you to communicate with someone who can intervene and hold the PF accountable.”

Though McGovern says a floormate complained to the admissions office about the PF, he remains largely unfazed by the experience.

“Nothing bad happened as a result of it,” he said. “We all got the sense that he was being overly aggressive.” The PF ended up not enrolling at Macalester.

For many PFs, alcohol is not at all a part of their experience.

“It was just a really good time,” said Patricia Bass ’08 of her overnight stay. “Probably because I was placed randomly and people were really outgoing and eager to talk about the school.”

An exciting visit is one of the main reasons why Bass decided to attend Macalester, she said.

PFs are rarely held accountable for drinking, according to Hoppe and Main. On the rare occasion when a PF is disciplined, the PFs parents are contacted. Still, it is not the college’s policy to notify high school guidance counselors when their student gets into trouble on the Macalester campus.

Decisions to reevaluate an admitted student’s status based on an alcohol related incident are made on a case-by-case basis, Main said. If the admitted student enrolls at Macalester, the student’s file will be “highlighted” so that the student will receive extra attention from the Dean of Students office.

“I think we’re very generous to our prospective students in terms of giving them the benefit of the doubt,” said Main. If a PF chooses to drink during an overnight visit, Main said, “I would never know. For better or worse, I feel that it’s not my place.”