A prom night with stipulations

When the Head Prefects announced last week that the school would not be canceling prom, the senior class joined in a round of applause. Prom had been saved! (Though we really doubt that seniors believed, at any point, that it was actually in jeopardy).

And all the seniors would have to do in order to attend prom is sign a pledge.

The survival of prom also seems to be a victory for the administration. With several student-generated concessions in the pledge including promises not to bring alcohol in the limo, not to arrive to prom intoxicated, not to attend an afterparty at a non-residential venue and not to “occupy” a room at the Renaissance Hotel for the entire weekend.

Prom-goers and their parents will sign it. Promises will be kept. The night will go smoothly. No 2 a.m. phone calls. No bad press. And here’s the kicker: it was the students that devised the solution. Just like that, the prom problem is solved. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.

The pledge fails to address the root of the problem: binge drinking. Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said at the post-semiformal assembly that “our school cannot continue to support an event that seems to serve as the platform for a night of binge drinking or bad behavior associated with intoxication.” Nowhere in the pledge are students explicitly asked not to binge drink. And even if a provision that banned binge drinking was included in the pledge, it most likely still wouldn’t stop students from doing so. Nearly 60 percent of 327 upper school students polled in a Chronicle survey replied that students will still binge drink despite having signed the agreement.

Events of previous years make it even clearer that signing a pledge will have little effect on student behavior. For years now, many limo companies have required all riders to sign a contract agreeing not to bring or consume alcohol in the limo. Yet, time and again, students have signed that document mere minutes or hours before they renege on it. Unlike the legally binding limo contract, the prom pledge is a nonbinding document that will be signed days, if not weeks, before prom night. When May 14 rolls around, thoughts of it will undoubtedly be overshadowed in students’ minds by the excitement that comes with prom night—a night that leads to drinking even by those who do not regularly drink. So why bother with the pledge in the first place?

The effects of the pledge will be minimal. But by taking a stance against binge drinking, the administration took a small step toward diminishing the binge drinking culture. Fearing punishment, seniors probably won’t plan an afterparty at a public venue or drink as much alcohol as they have in previous years.

The administration has also decided to work with parents to change the student binge drinking culture. A recent Parents’ Association meeting featured former English teacher and college counselor Caitlin Flanagan and law professor Laurie Levenson who warned of the dangers and legal implications of teenage drinking.

While the pledge is not a solution to the problem, along with the administration’s concerted effort to educate and work with parents, it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully students will begin to make safer choices. Or sooner or later someone might end up dead.