Beer! Beer! Beer!
Since its inception, Covenant College has had some form of a Student Conduct Agreement, widely known as “the contract.” As rumors have it—and as President Derek Halvorson mentioned in a recent interview—the document has evolved substantially throughout the decades. Notably, the contract once banned student dancing and monitored movie watching.
In its current state, the document outlines numerous conduct expectations of students, from modesty in dress to compliance with Federal, State, and Local law, but arguably the most controversial section is the ban on the consumption of alcohol or use of tobacco products. This ban has four exceptions: when students are away on break, when they are under the authority of their parents or church, when in a foreign culture where refusing a ceremonial drink would be considered rude, or when living off campus and married, or when they are 25 or older.
This ban does not reflect a biblical mandate but falls under what the Student Conduct Agreement holds as “in the best interest of others in the community.” Halvorson describes the intention of contract to be “a uniform set of behavioral expectation.”
Halvorson first recognized the benefits of a ban on alcohol and tobacco at Covenant when he was Vice President of the Student Senate. While he held the position, Senate lobbied administration to overturn the ban. But the reasoning behind the original ban and its continued recognition is essentially practical. As a Reformed institution, the college does not inherently take issue with the consumption of alcohol or tobacco, but the reality is that around 80 percent of the student body is under the age of 21. As Halvorson pointed out, the ban usually only affects most student for a few months, since most turn 21 during their last year.
“There was a sort of pragmatic decision made at some point: ‘Let’s ask all the students to live by the same standard,’” said Halvorson.
Halvorson compares the ban on alcohol and tobacco to the college requiring chapel or class attendance.
At a very basic level, the ban prevents RAs having to check IDs when students “come back to campus with alcohol on their breath.” It also decreases the likelihood that of-age students are buying alcohol for under-aged peers and the frequency of drunk driving up the mountain. Additionally, a ban on alcohol prevents other serious consequences of an alcohol friendly student body, such as an increase in sexual assault cases.
The ban on tobacco is also practical, according to Halvorson, given the health consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke.
Halvorson believes Student Senate would receive a similar answer today if it were to approach administration about the topic, given “the practicalities and empirical evidence.”
Halvorson does believe that administration and Student Development would consider the opinion of the student body, though, if a majority of students were to voice a desire to overturn the ban. He cites the uproar over changes to the meal plan a couple of years ago as an example of the College responding to student desire and organizing.
If administration were to consider overturning the ban on alcohol or tobacco, the Board of Trustees would have to approve it. The Board has to approve any major change administration proposes. Halvorson points to a change made a couple of years to the “language surrounding sexual conduct and misconduct,” which the Board had to approve. This change was largely to express administration and Student Development’s interest in “pastoral care and in restorative discipline.” This interest holds across all of the Student Conduct Agreement.
Cases involving the violation of contract are each handled uniquely according to whether students express repentance or confess. Halvorson says, “Our stance is ‘Okay, you are clearly repentant and looking for help, so we’re going to try to help build some accountability structure.”