Reflections on the Six Week Ban

Happy days are here again.

Happy days are here again.

With homecoming over, I have finally been given the opportunity to spend a few nights struggling to grasp both the finer points of Dartmouth pong and the paddles used to play. The curtains have been drawn back from the venue for such activities: fraternity basements. After six weeks of anticipation, I expected a savage and deadly terrain, swamped with vomit and endlessly flowing alcohol, and rife with the screams of helpless “new members.” What I got were a few rooms full of new, friendly faces, all intent on starting up a game, or at the very least a conversation. The beverages took the form of a few racks of Keystone here or there, only really served to the thirsty plastic cups on the tables in between games. What I realized was that I am far luckier to have made it through the first six weeks of college than any that follow.

The first and foremost reason for the freshman six-week ban, if I understand correctly, is the safety of new students. If the administration’s intention is to prevent underage drinking altogether, it should really contemplate a better approach. Anyone who has been alive between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one knows that if a young adult wishes to drink, he or she will find a way. Given this unavoidable truth, the goal should then be shifted to minimizing dangerous situations.

The dorms foster a far less safe environment for social gatherings in which alcohol is involved. Because freshman who choose to drink are forced to be so discrete in the residence halls, which are actively patrolled by both Safety and Security (S&S) and Undergraduate Advisors (UGAs), the obvious choice when smuggling alcohol is hard liquor. This is clearly the wrong choice for an inexperienced drinker to make. Aside from the occasional a cappella show or GLC-approved dance party thrown by a fraternity, many evenings offered little in the way of entertainment for freshman. Pre-gaming, or rapid binge drinking in anticipation of a dry-event event, became the game.

These pre-games, consisting of small dorm rooms packed with fifteen or more freshmen yelling over loud music, can only last so long before they are inevitably shut down by a UGA or passing S&S officer. On one occasion, I overheard a drunken ’18 blathering to his friends about how he had lost his ability to pace himself. “I’m so used to getting kicked out of every room I’m in after only, like, a half an hour, that I just drink whatever I can when there is booze,” he said. Apparently on that particular evening he was left uninterrupted. While this is extraordinarily juvenile behavior, it does reflect an alarming concept. Without older, more experienced students present, who is able to set an example, or at the very least criticize such behavior? Furthermore, because fraternities are constantly under fire from the administration for serving minors, they would not give an ‘18 the opportunity to drink in such a reckless manner. In my limited experience in fraternities, there is essentially no alcohol provided outside of the tables. This stands in stark contrast to the residence hall gatherings, in which freshman were frequently offer each other cheap liquor in order to assert their popularity amongst classmates.

The picture that has been illustrated so far is, granted, a skewed one. Those freshmen who choose to participate in these reckless dorm parties are assuredly a minority. This is perhaps a benefit of the freshman ban; fewer available social outlets result in fewer overall freshman drinkers. However, those that drink are doing so in a less safe environment. I would contend that the decrease in the overall number of people drinking does not outweigh the risk to the safety of those that choose to.

Alcohol aside, many ’17’s reported a somewhat unanticipated benefit of the fraternity ban after their experience last fall. Trapped most nights in a residence hall with no particularly enticing events to attend, the grade bonded and became extremely close. In many situations, this has proved true for the ‘18’s as well. I live in a dorm with a lively social scene; next to no one knew each other beforehand, and the athletes did not immediately depart to their respective teams as their primary social outlet. There are several other floors that have similar cohesion. However, following the frenzy of introductions and rapid bonding that orientation and the following week or two brought, the reasons to branch out into new social circles began to diminish. My dorm became a unit, an identity, and while it was beloved by those who were a part of it, it offered little diversity after just a couple weeks. Dorm gatherings must remain small, simply because of the lack of space and access to alcohol. Therefore, unless you are explicitly invited to a room, it can be difficult to find the party. No one would take kindly to the group of strangers that just walked around a dorm until they found the source of the music. The freshmen bonding that the six-week ban offers only extends so far. For example, it took me until a pong game last Wednesday night to have ever made a friend from the East Wheelock cluster.

The glory of fraternities at Dartmouth is inclusivity. Whether you play sports, sing, dance, or pretty much just sit in your room and play FIFA, you are allowed to join in the fun. However, I believe the six-week ban leaves non-athletes at a greater social disadvantage than previously existed. During the ban, I could count the number of upperclassmen I knew on one hand: two were my trip leaders, and one was my UGA. While I am a friend to freshmen athletes who I may not have become as close with, they seem to be welcomed into fraternities with open arms, while I remain a guest. Going between five different frats, a friend of mine on the track team seemed to know a couple brothers at every single one, greeted by bro-hugs and offers of partnership in pong. This likely will diminish, however, it is not consistent with the environment of inclusivity and equality that attracted me to the Dartmouth fraternity scene. I hope that in the coming weeks the playing fields (or non-playing fields) will be leveled, and Dartmouth’s Greek life can live up to its name. As a member of the Dartmouth community, I look forward to being able to spend the remainder of my year branching out through this enduring and irreplaceable system.