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Beached

Posted 9/2/1998

School tradition destroyed or long-overdue observance of the law? Your viewpoint depends on which side of the police line you stood on at Johns Hopkins University in the wee hours of Aug. 30.

For the past five years, new arrivals at the Homewood campus have gathered on "the beach," a wide lawn along the North Charles Street side of the grounds, to socialize--and drink--on their first night at college. But this year students trying to enter the beach with alcoholic beverages--as several did throughout the evening--were directed by school security officers to leave. By 2 a.m. a group of about 30 students had gathered on the beach, but none were drinking.

Hopkins' argument for putting the kibosh on the annual freshman meet-and-greet is simple--school policy bars alcohol on campus except at E-Level (a bar at the student union) and during some school-sanctioned events. In the past Hopkins officials were more lenient about drinking on the beach because the drinkers were usually seniors. But since the construction of McCoy and Wolman halls, frosh and sophomore dormitories across Charles Street from the beach, more underage students have been socializing on the lawn. "We've taken more kids to the hospital than . . . well, let's put it this way: Alcohol can kill you," one Hopkins security officer, who requested anonymity, told the Nose as we observed the Aug. 30 nonactivity. "What if some parent called up?" another "Hop cop" noted. "'Why was my kid drinking?' What if they sued? The university is liable."

But many students, including upperclasspersons, argue that the annual beach gathering provides a safe haven for activity that's going to take place somewhere regardless--better kids should imbibe on the campus lawn than at fraternity houses, some as far as nine blocks away, or off-campus apartments. When Hopkins security officers cite incidents of alcohol poisoning on the beach, students counter with their fears about being mugged or worse on their way home from parties.

"It's pretty scary walking down St. Paul [Street] at 2 a.m. , and the beach is a better place to see people anyway," one student said. "If they close down the beach, all drinking will involve walking in the city."

"I have a hard time with that argument," Susan Boswell, Hopkins' dean of students, says. "The university, like the students, has a responsibility to uphold the law. And the law is that anyone under 21 is forbidden to consume alcohol."

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