Georgetown has spent the past several years trying to bring students’ social lives back to campus. While policy changes like the abolishment of the limit on the number of kegs an apartment can have and the elimination of the party registration system have proven effective, one thing is for certain: Georgetown’s bar culture isn’t going away anytime soon.
However, with a social scene that for many students revolves around M Street’s pricy nightlife, comes the inevitable: fake IDs and inexpensive binge drinking.
Georgetown’s rocky relationship with its neighbors doesn’t help matters. As students are forced back on campus by changing policies and enforcement of the District’s drinking and false identification laws grows stronger on M Street, Georgetown social life is at a transitional point.
Before the National Minimum Drinking Age Act encouraged states to raise the drinking age to 21 in 1984, Georgetown’s social scene was vastly different from what students recognize today. President of the Georgetown Alumni Association George Peacock (CAS ’84) recalls the Healy Pub, which was located in the basement of Healy Hall, as the hub of weekend partying. Policies were relatively lax and alcohol highly prevalent, but Peacock believes that there were benefits to be found in this kind of drinking culture.
“I never even heard the phrase ‘binge drinking’ until 15 to 20 years after I graduated,” he said. “It wasn’t a contest. There was no reason to binge drink since you didn’t need to get it in all at once because of any other anxieties or concerns.”
Fast forward three decades, and students are confronted by various changes that are deeply affecting their social lives. While the administration has made a successful push for greater leniency concerning on-campus alcohol policies, these changes have not curbed the popularity of fake IDs.
The Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act, which was enacted in 2010, made unreasonably loud noise from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. punishable by fines and possible jail time. This noise restriction has led to a more frequent crackdown on townhouse parties around Georgetown by the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program and police.
Connor Joseph (COL ’16) sees the effect that this new restriction has placed on off-campus activities.
“SNAP is changing its tune and enforcing noise violations more frequently. Everything is going to [The Office of Student] Conduct. We’ve experienced that pattern, and the overall threat of that pattern has definitely seen a rise among the townhouses,” he said.
Cory Peterson, director of the Office of Neighborhood Life, which coordinates SNAP, finds this negative relationship to be rooted in stereotype.
“I believe the greatest source of tension between students and neighbors is generalizations of one another,” he said.
While groups like the Georgetown Community Partnership have helped to improve student-neighbor tensions, these efforts go unnoticed by much of the student body.
Whereas some organizations are making a conscious effort to strengthen their strained relationship with the neighborhood and believe that the university is facilitating communication between the two groups, others are not as convinced.
“I think the 2010 Campus Plan is really starting to hit students,” Co-Director of the Student Advocacy Office Ben Manzione (SFS ’15) said. “When I first came to Georgetown, back then the GUSA Executive bused students to go to the zoning commission hearings and the university was thankful that we were there. I felt the spirit that the university was actually fighting for its students and the undergraduate population. I’m not necessarily sure if I still feel that same sentiment.”
For students fighting against having their social lives restricted to events on campus, the desire to explore nightlife in the surrounding area has meant that many have consciously decided to take the risk of using fake IDs. On top of this, there appears to be a growing trend of binge drinking in response to what students view as a constrained social scene.
Phil Seiler (SFS ’15), a Brazilian international student, sees the dangers of the current drinking culture.
“Our legal drinking age in Brazil is 18, and we start socially drinking at 16, so you’ve already gone through that phase of binge drinking. Now you see it more amongst American kids; they come here, find alcohol, and don’t know how to deal with it well,” he said. “They have all of these procedures to keep you from drinking when we all know that nobody is following them. Getting around them is a nuisance. In Brazil you’re used to buying alcohol, but here you’re treated like you’re buying drugs.”
Before Seiler was 21, he would use his brother’s identification to gain access to bars in his first years at Georgetown.
“My brother and I look exactly alike, so I never actually had that fear of getting my ID taken away from me. Instead, the fear was getting caught with alcohol in my dorm or having someone check my backpack full of alcohol,” he said. “I think [my brother’s ID] was necessary. If not necessary, then it contributed to my fun quite a lot. I feel like it helped me go out and explore. It made my life easier.”
Similarly, Anna* (SFS ’17) said her fake ID facilitated a longer night out and enabled her to leave the Georgetown neighborhood altogether.
“I use my fake ID two to four times a week. A lot of times I end up at bars when things die down too quickly and I still want to have fun. I probably end up at bars half the time. Or it’s nice to go completely off campus to Adams Morgan and spend a night there, and that would be a fully [fake] ID-dependent night,” she said.
These students are not the only ones disillusioned by the current environment of Georgetown parties.
“Not everyone is in a social or academic club, and with everything being so competitive at Georgetown, it’s hard to get accepted into certain groups,” Jim* (MSB ’17) who also uses a fake ID, said. “By that system, there’s less opportunities for me to go out. I felt left out as a freshman.”
These students are aware that presenting a fake ID at bars and liquor stores is considered a felony in the District.
“I know that they’re risky, and I’m pretty scared to use mine in general. But I feel that with the whole reputation that Georgetown has of being more of a bar school, and being in the city, I felt more of a pressure to get a fake, especially when I felt like I wasn’t going to have anything to do on the weekends if I didn’t get one,” he said.
This overall fear of missing out and pressure to take part in the off-campus culture clearly permeates the student body.
“I had a friend that had her fake ID taken away right at the beginning of freshman year,” Seiler said. “She was pretty upset because she’s also international. Imagine you have this freedom and then someone takes it away from you. It limits your freedom and what you can do. It’s not even that you can go to a bar and just not drink — you can’t even enter the establishment without having an ID.”
Many students see fake IDs as a necessary part of life at Georgetown, and, accordingly, fake IDs are not that hard to get. Large group orders placed among friends or circulated around freshman floors make their way to local contacts or foreign websites. Anna, who has organized orders of fake IDs in packs of 11 and 15, admits that doing so comes with a number of potential liabilites.
“There are a lot of risks associated with fake IDs beyond what people normally think about. As a person who was the organizer for a group order of IDs, when you are buying IDs from China, that wire stays on your record forever, because your social security number is used whenever you do foreign transactions,” Anna said. “It is a lot of money. It was $125 for [a set of] two IDs — once one’s taken, that’s around $60 dollars disappearing into thin air.”
The use of fake IDs can have consequences on campus, besides just being rejected from Rhino.
“In the Student Advocacy Office, we have seen more conduct cases regarding fake IDs,” Manzione said. “There also has been an increase in enforcement with the Cops in Shops program. ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which monitors compliance with alcohol license laws] goes to local establishments like Rhino, and students and administrators work with ABRA to identify bars and liquor stores that serve to students who are underage. They will then target these areas.”
On campus, recent changes to the disciplinary policy have made the Code of Student Conduct more student-friendly, including having first-time violations of some of the code’s noise and alcohol policies committed during freshman year not being visible to employers and graduate schools on a student’s disciplinary record. The revised version of the code of conduct states, “This policy addresses students who may have had a lapse in judgment and/or decision-making during their first-year [sic] of college.” However, not all students know about these adjustments.
“The new alcohol policy [implemented this year] is something that we should be talking about, especially with freshmen,” Matt Donovan (SFS ’17), a student advocate, said. “If a freshman gets one alcohol or noise violation and they manage to not get a subsequent violation within that first year, then that is put into your internal record rather than on our personal record, and employers cannot see that. That’s what we’ve been telling people. The university has given us this leeway, and we’ve worked hard for it.”
Peterson mentioned a number of changes in alcohol policies, including abolishing the on-campus party registration system, removing the one-keg limit and allowing small gatherings with open containers in open spaces within Village A, Henle, Alumni Square and the LXR and Nevils courtyard.
Judy Johnson, director of the Office of Student Conduct, recognizes this more lenient campus culture.
“Our policy on possession of alcohol has shifted in recent years. We’ve made an effort to relax our enforcement policies,” she said. “Now, if there are no visible signs of students violating the Code of Conduct, we normally won’t pursue the issue further. Our main goal is to make sure that students are safe.”
GUPD Chief Jay Gruber agreed with Johnson, emphasizing that the primary goal of his officers is not to proactively seek out violations of alcohol and party policies.
“We’re not going to bother them if there’s 10 to 30 people, it’s not crowded and they’re not being disorderly,” Gruber said. “If the students have excessive noise, if the balcony is overcrowded and if they’re throwing things and getting rowdy, then we’re going to take some action, but it’s not our sole purpose just to go break up things.”
Although these developments have set the foundations for a more readily accepted on-campus social scene, there remains a gap between students and what they see as an intolerant neighborhood and strict administrative policies. Resident Assistant Dave* (COL ’16) spoke about this tense relationship.
“At times there’s definitely a divide between what the protocol asks of RAs and what you know is going to have the greatest impact,” he said. “Sometimes the protocol is a little more cold-blooded and cut-and-dry, but if you follow the protocol that is not cognizant of the situational dynamics, you won’t make the greatest difference.”
While Dave respects the overall goal and actions of the administrative staff, he believes that there is still great room for improvement. Amid all of these on- and off-campus changes, communication between the university and its students is lacking.
“There is a disconnect between the administration and Residential Living and then the students,” he said. “There needs to be more education to students of what the liberties are on campus, because a lot of students don’t know these things. That is a travesty. There must be more input from them, and there needs to be more education on their rights.”
Despite the administration’s insistence that campus policies regarding disciplinary action for noise and alcohol policies have been relaxed, lack of student awareness and a persisting desire to explore nightlife beyond the campus gates has not inhibited the use of fake IDs. The tension between the university’s push to bring students back on campus with the student’s desire for independence and freedom has, perhaps inevitably, led to an increased use of these riskier methods, demonstrating a deadlock between university policies and student desires for an active and exciting social life.
With a mounting number of arrests for fake ID use, and a stricter implementation of district alcohol laws, it remains to be seen how communication between the students, the neighborhood and the administration will hold together the Georgetown community, and how campus party culture will evolve in response.
*Names have been changed.