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Alcohol on Campus: Emmanuel’s Not-So-Dry History

“Dry Campus.” Tours and orientations toss this phrase around until every drop of alcoholic dreams are drained from incoming Saints. However, Emmanuel College is not characterized by as dry a past as most assume.

At its inception, Emmanuel College was strictly a dry campus. The drinking age in Massachusetts was 21, and Emmanuel’s policies reflected the laws of the Commonwealth. A Student Handbook from 1965 succinctly states that, “No Emmanuel student may either possess or use any alcoholic beverage on the Emmanuel campus. This regulation includes beer and light wines.”

A crushed Schlitz beer can is hungover on the Cardinal Cushing Library lawn, 1971.

In 1972, though, governor Francis M. Sargent signed a bill that lowered the drinking age to 18. The law went into effect on April 1, 1973.

Once the lowered drinking age became law, Emmanuel began to host events on campus that served alcohol. Sr. Mary Kelleher, Dean of Students during the 1970s and ’80s, noted the requirement of a liquor license, as well the presence of both police and Emmanuel security at each event.

Kelleher was unavailable for comment regarding the types of events Emmanuel would host, as well as which alcohol policy she found to be better-suited to the student body.

Drinks served at Parent’s Weekend, 1983.

The lower drinking age resulted in increased rates of alcohol-related accidents and injuries. For the sake of safety, the drinking age was raised to 20 on April 16, 1979, then raised back to 21 in 1985.

Emmanuel responded by reverting back to its traditional dry campus policies. The college found that too few resident students were of legal drinking age for the school to consider policy overhauls.

In 1988, the Student Handbook reinforced dry campus policies by stating that, “No student or campus resident, regardless of age, may possess, consume, or transport alcohol on the Emmanuel College campus.” The Handbook did, however, permit students of the legal age to consume alcohol at “highly-structured events conducted off-campus at reputable, licensed establishments.”

As of 2005, the Handbook stated that Emmanuel strictly prohibited, “intoxication, use, sale, distribution, possession, or being in the presence of alcoholic beverages or related paraphernalia, regardless of age.” It stated that, “the College policy on alcohol and drug use is designed to promote health, safety, and academic excellence.”

In the ’90s, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Patricia Rissmeyer reopened the dry campus debate. However, a number of students vehemently opposed policy changes. They appreciated Emmanuel’s “ambiance” rather than its reputation as a “party campus,” said Rissmeyer. These students were not a majority, but their voice was strong enough to table the discussion for decades.

However, Emmanuel is not as exclusively dry as most students assume. For years, Emmanuel has served alcohol during Senior Week, at trustee meetings, and at the 100 Days Celebration. Truly dry campuses are usually in dry counties, or are part of belief systems that prohibit consumption of alcohol altogether.

“A lot of people use the term ‘dry.’ I try not to use the word because we’re technically not dry. We don’t prohibit the consumption of alcohol, we never have. We all use the term ‘dry’ out of convenience,” said Rissmeyer.

Rissmeyer officially classified Emmanuel as a campus that restricts alcohol. For the most part, Emmanuel’s policies simply uphold the law, and the college has a standard for enforcement among the RAs and AD/RDs.

“Some students equate Catholic with strict, but Catholics don’t prohibit alcohol consumption. It’s not a sin to drink. I think some students think we’re crazy over alcohol, but we’re really not. The simple answer is that we don’t have many residents of legal age to drink. The other thing is, we’re in the city–if you want to drink, walk three blocks!” said Rissmeyer.

Joseph Schlitz Beer Co. welcomes EC students on Move In Day, 1977.

Currently, students are experiencing a gradual easing of Emmanuel’s strict dry-campus policies. The college recently reintroduced 21+ events and “after dark” pub nights that serve alcohol.

At each of these events, the Office of Student Affairs has paid for licensed bartenders and staffed security. The required levels of security, though, have significantly shifted since those of the 1970s.

“We are fortunate at this time in our history to have on the Emmanuel staff retired Massachusetts State Police Officers as Campus Lieutenants. Our events this year have been small gatherings (20-40 Emmanuel students all age 21 or older) so we haven’t seen the need to hire an outside police detail,” said Rissmeyer.

Rissmeyer confirmed that Emmanuel is considering significant policy changes moving forward. And unlike previous decades, these considerations do not face opposition from students.

With the grand opening of the new Julie Hall, Emmanuel is seriously reconsidering their traditional alcohol policy, which has been in effect since the school’s inception. The new Julie Hall will house mainly upperclassmen, as well as have apartment-style dorms. This creates an environment that is much more conducive to wet campus policies.

The Office of Housing and Resident Life was unavailable for comment concerning the effectiveness of the current policies in residence halls.

Students lounge with Miller beers in their dorm room, 1979.

Rissmeyer said that she has experienced a great deal of change in her time at Emmanuel, and she believes that the college has always been thoughtful and careful in change. This particular discussion merits particular care, because altering alcohol policies are, “not without potential for negative impacts on other students. There are certain issues you need to take into account, and it’s not as simple as it might seem,” said Rissmeyer.

Currently, Emmanuel is studying other colleges’ policies in order to develop thoroughly, carefully, and effectively.

Still, these potential policy changes are in the early stages. Emmanuel staff only reopened this issue in mid-April, and currently they are simply collecting and discussing information.

Rissmeyer confirmed that Emmanuel definitely plans to involve students in the process. Through surveys and focus groups, the college hopes to develop truly thoughtful policies to implement before Julie Hall opens. Serious discussions with the student body will most likely begin in the fall.

“It’s a new day, it’s a new time. We have a new residence hall, and we hope to attract seniors to that residence hall. It’s a different time, and I think we can offer a different experience for students,” said Rissmeyer.

Emery Veilleux ’20 is the Assistant Managing Editor and a Staff Writer for the Hub. She can be contacted at and on Twitter.

Images provided by the Emmanuel College Archives.

Posted by on May 2, 2017. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Alcohol on Campus: Emmanuel’s Not-So-Dry History

  1. can i get a uhhhhhhh

    May 2, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Great article. The reversion of these policies are clearly a sign of the times.. Can’t wait for EC to finally be realized as EC State.