Backwards BASICS

In the midst of all the negative news surrounding Dartmouth in the past few months, Dartmouth Now reports that there are some very bright developments in the Dartmouth community.

“Around 100 Dartmouth students have cut alcohol consumption by almost half after taking part in a pilot program run by the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking,” says the article.

“Dartmouth began requiring BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) last September for students cited for an alcohol-related offense,” states Dartmouth Now. “Data from intervention work with about 100 students who violated the College alcohol policy last fall—many of them needing medical assistance—show that their alcohol consumption has been cut almost in half within 90 days.”

Wow! Isn’t this news so heartwarming? Given Dartmouth’s reputation for raging, it is encouraging to know that President Kim, Dean Johnson, and Brian Bowden, coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Education Programs, have found a way to change the culture that many thought impossible to improve! Right?

Not Exactly.

“Who actually tells the truth on those things?” laughs one ’15 who was required to take part in the program. “They think that I drink three beers a night now.”

After being written-up for something like pre-gaming, a student is contacted by the Dartmouth Alcohol and Other Drug Awareness Program (DAODAP), which “recommends” that the student take a BASICS survey, attend a “Feedback Session” to discuss the results of the survey, and then complete “follow-up surveys” 90 and 180 days later. These surveys ask questions about drinking habits like how many drinks you have per night, what types of drinks they are, and how many nights per week you go out.

Unfortunately for the validity of this program, any student who is caught for a drinking violation has absolutely no incentive to actually tell the truth about their drinking habits unless their behavior is already safe. Students who routinely drink more than five drinks in two hours, which is the technical definition of binge drinking, will not admit this fact. Why bother with obnoxious College recommendations or risk automatically being labeled as a “high-risk” drinker? When a student is prompted to complete any step of this program, he will usually choose whatever response makes DAODAP go away. One would only face a punishment for not lying. Dartmouth students have better things to do than deal with bureaucratic drinking counseling. We have papers to write, problem sets to complete, and pong to play.

I don’t want to suggest that dangerous drinking habits do not exist on campus. Like any college campus, there are surely people who need help. BASICS may offer a solution for those people to come to terms with their issue, and in this aspect it is can be helpful.

But to suggest that the implementation of survey program has dramatically decreased binge drinking is absurd. Depending on the house rules, playing two games of pong in a row essentially qualifies as binge drinking. BASICS will not change that.

Although Dartmouth Now may be a Dartmouth propaganda machine, the fact that the College is publishing these claims as true is unsettling. The evidence falsely shows that Dartmouth is leading the research in a relevant problem while also fighting a persistent issue on campus. This “evidence-based approach” collects misleading data, but I seriously doubt that such an inconvenience will give The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice hesitation before they publish their backwards claims to the world. Facts are facts, right?


— Carl E. Marlborough IV