By any measure, this year’s Blanket New Orleans service trip was a model of success for Georgetown’s alternative spring break trips, attracting roughly 30 students to travel down to New Orleans in early March and assist in the ongoing recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

For five days, the group immersed itself in rebuilding the still-reeling Lower Ninth Ward, as well as other ravaged parts of the city. They helped in reconstructing and repainting houses, and they forged ties with residents whose lives were abruptly shattered in the late summer of 2005.

What makes this success story all the more inspiring is that BNO is a Georgetown institution. In New Orleans, where students say one resident has a photo hanging in her house of last year’s BNO crew, the positive impact of the program has been undeniable.

But now, BNO’s brief history of success and promising future are threatened, for the most specious of reasons. The Center for Social Justice, which runs alternative spring break programs, requires participants to sign a pledge not to drink alcohol during the trip, whether or not they are of legal age. After receiving reports that some students on this year’s BNO trip violated that provision of the pledge, CSJ leaders leveled disciplinary sanctions against the organization and prohibited them from planning next year’s trip to the Gulf Coast.

Raymond Shiu, the student leadership and special programs director for CSJ, says that student participants are required to sign the pledges because provisions like the no-drinking requirement are what make the trips genuinely “alternative” spring break plans. Fair enough. But we suspect that residents of New Orleans who are still struggling with the loss of their homes, their livelihood and, in many cases, their friends and family members, don’t really care if the volunteers who want to help give them a fresh start also take in a little of the city’s famed nightlife after hours. Furthermore, we do not believe that such volunteers should be treated like high school seniors on curfew.

If CSJ wants to hold students to a no-drinking requirement on its trips, it is well within its right to do so. However, given that there were no reports of rowdy, disruptive or disrespectful behavior by BNO participants, CSJ could have simply sanctioned students who violated the rule or barred them from participating in its programs next year (if it really feels that drinking alcohol is so severe an offense that it’s worth discouraging students who wish to give of themselves to help others).

Instead, it has chosen to cancel the trip for next year, a staggering and reckless overreaction to a relatively innocuous violation of its service trip policies. CSJ has said that BNO can proceed with its other activities throughout the year, but the New Orleans trip is far and away BNO’s most important student initiative, and terminating it for an entire year imperils the future of the entire program, to say nothing of what it might have accomplished in the Gulf Coast region.

Unless CSJ wants to be responsible for killing a noble student effort on behalf of America’s wounded city, it should lighten up and consider listening to the New Orleans credo of laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll – and let the good work of the recovery roll on.

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