Data is the Answer, Not Delusional Hopes

On the heels of the protests by the radical group for­merly known as Dartmouth REALTALK (now known as Dartmouth RealTalk), there comes the news that Greek leadership is considering a new policy to ban freshmen from all Greek houses while alcohol is being served or consumed until the Monday after Homecoming. On the one hand, this is something I support. It’s a reform of the Greek system that’s targeted at reducing the problems associated with Greek life while maintaining the institution itself. Good. It’s hardly an attempt to ban the Greek system which so many RealTalk aficionados appear to desperately desire.

It is not inherently a bad idea, but I fear it will have dangerous consequences. Ban freshmen by all means, but then where will they go?

I remember the halcyon days of my freshman fall. We were not lured to the fra­ternities. Rather, we chose to go because we wanted to. As for the theories that this will limit access to alcohol, I worry that is merely a pipe dream. Everyone on my freshman floor had an upperclassman friend who would buy hard liquor for them within a fortnight. And, unlike the light beer that is consumed in the fraternities, our pre-games always consisted of grain spirits or cheap vodka. Why? It was easier to store, more cost-effective and finally more concealable. By far, mixed drinks were the beverage of choice.

For those of you who no longer imbibe, mixed drinks are far more dangerous than light beer. It’s a lot easier to down six extra shots in thirty minutes than six extra beers. And then, you will be in a lot more trouble. Sadly, I fear that freshmen will merely remain in their dorms or in less monitored spaces, pre-gaming with hard liquor and mixed drinks. That is far more dangerous in terms of drinking behavior than a game or two of beer pong with Keystone Light in a fraternity basement. After all, in a fraternity, there are experienced upperclassmen monitoring the situation to make sure no drunk freshman dies on their couches. In an open basement, there are other individuals who are present in the situation who can instantly spot a stumbling and vomiting individual and then help them. All of these are good safeguards. Some claim that freshmen won’t pre-game if there are no available parties. To these seemingly naive people, I reply that the pre-game will become the party.

As for sexual assault, I believe this policy could reduce the number of sexual assaults significantly. But, I worry there may also be other unintended consequences. For example, wouldn’t it be a worse power dynamic if liquor was scarce? If there were only a few parties available to freshmen? If an older student held a party in his dormitory room and invited freshmen, wouldn’t that be a far more hostile environment than a fraternity basement which is open to all students? In a fraternity basement filled with older male and female students from across campus, bystander intervention is a far more likely occurrence. At the same time, then freshmen can easily choose to leave a threatening and uncomfort­able environment. After all, the next opportunity to get alcohol is just steps away down Webster Avenue. If the supply of liquor is restricted to those few unethical enough to invite over freshmen, why would that reduce sexual assault? It could, conceivably as fresh­men would be on guard at such parties as opposed to assuming that fraternity par­ties are completely safe. But is that the only reason we are supporting this policy?

I desperately hope that banning freshmen does indeed reduce sexual assault, but I also do not believe that we should just march blindly over the cliff of bad policy without a little forethought. So, instead of just blindly passing this policy, the Greek leadership should very clearly state to the administration that as a consequence of this policy’s passage, extensive records must be kept of all relevant statistics for the incom­ing freshmen class and then publicly shared. For example, we need to know if sexual as­saults increased or decreased before and after Homecom­ing. Did this policy merely delay sexual assaults until fraternities were opened to freshmen? Or did it increase sexual assault by pushing freshmen social scenes and alcohol consumption into unregulated areas of campus? The same goes for binge drinking. Why not conduct anonymous surveys on sexual assault as well as record all reported sexual assaults and freshmen who were sent to DHMC or Dick’s House? Why not record their BACs as well?

The debate on campus is woefully bereft of facts or data. If we’re going to try a new policy, we must also examine its effects. How else can we know if we’ve truly improved the situation? How else can we discover the truth about sexual assault, fraternities and binge drinking? Policy based on theories instead of facts is dangerous and irresponsible. We can and should do better.

— Thomas J.P. Harrington