The Dangers of a Hard Alcohol Ban

Wit’ da new hard alcohol ban, it’s gonna be curtains for da frats, see!

Wit’ da new hard alcohol ban, it’s gonna be curtains for da frats, see!

Dartmouth students are familiar with the stated goals of the Presidential Steering Committee: to curb high-risk drinking, sexual assault, and exclusivity on Dartmouth’s campus. However, due to the opacity of the committee’s deliberation process, we undergraduates are left to speculate as to how these goals might be achieved. Although many of the committee’s considerations have remained secret, some of their potential initiatives have come to light. Among these is a proposal to curb harmful drinking by banning—to at least some extent—the consumption of hard alcohol among the student body. This is a predictable measure in the broader campaign to eradicate dangerous binge drinking on campus. However, the extent to which such a ban would be exercised remains unknown. The undergraduate student body will need to make certain concessions to ensure that Dartmouth’s social culture remains intact while the safety and reputation of the school is preserved; however, the outright prohibition of liquor raises a specter of authoritarianism that the freedom-loving students of the College would undoubtedly find objectionable.

Under the most extreme version of this policy, possession of hard liquor would be banned in its entirety within the confines of the campus. This policy would preclude of-age students from exercising their legal right, under state law, to possess and consume hard liquor. It is undoubtedly necessary for the steering committee to take tangible action to limit problematic drinking; if the reduction of hard alcohol consumption is managed in a responsible and reasonable manner, then the committee’s efforts would be laudable. However, if the Steering Committee were to make the rash decision to recommend a system of prohibition akin to the archaic policies of the 1920s, their praiseworthy intentions would be rendered irrelevant or potentially harmful.

Were the committee to ban the possession of hard alcohol outright, without making any concessions to the student body, then this policy would merely encourage and escalate the occurrence of surreptitious binge drinking—the very behavior that the committee was assembled to address. In these weighty discussions about the future of social life at Dartmouth, common sense must prevail. If the administration seeks to limit student’s access to liquor, it must reassess its current draconian treatment of beer consumption in Greek houses and dorms. It is a universally accepted truth that the consumption of hard alcohol is more dangerous than the consumption of beer. If the movement toward eradicating high-risk drinking is to be realized, the administration needs to adopt a quid pro quo attitude toward its dealings with the undergraduate student body. The tendency of the 18-to-22-year-old demographic to drink, sometimes to excess, is a similar truth that has been accepted by nearly everyone possessed of common sense. The inability of the Hanlon administration to come to terms with this societal reality is indicative of the utopian pipe dream that has informed the steering committee’s ultimate goal of altering human nature.

If the Hanlon administration truly seeks to enhance the safety of students with regards to alcohol consumption, then it must find the middle ground between acknowledging the prevalence of alcohol consumption on college campuses and condoning it. This approach requires a carrot-and-stick policy that allows students to drink in less harmful ways, without the fear of a judicial crackdown. The administration can, indeed should, seek to dis-incentivize the consumption of hard alcohol by minors. However, any such policy will ultimately fail if it does not simultaneously treat the consumption of less harmful substances, such as beer and wine, differently from their more harmful counterparts.

In the past, the consumption of hard liquor has occurred most perniciously in dormitory “pregames” and in “tails” events held between fraternities and sororities. In both of these cases, liquor may be consumed rapidly, in excess, and by minors. If the administration seeks to eradicate harmful drinking, it would do well to focus its efforts on those areas. Of course, the consumption of hard liquor at dormitory “pregames” is already prohibited; however, the existing policies do not curb alcohol consumption, but rather incentivize students to drink furtively and rapidly, so as to avoid detection by Safety & Security. If the administration were to focus its preventative efforts on curbing hard liquor consumption, while loosening its stance on the consumption of less alcoholic alternatives like beer and wine, underage students could have their fun, without resorting to more secretive and dangerous practices.

It must be acknowledged that Dartmouth students are both highly intelligent and resourceful. Dartmouth students are leading the nation in every conceivable industry. If a Dartmouth student wants to drink a beer, no college administration will be able to stop him or her. The College should not endeavor to yank the beer from a student’s hand; rather, the College should acknowledge the inevitability of underage drinking on the Dartmouth campus and encourage students to engage in the practice in the safest manner possible. As the College’s alcohol policies currently stand, they could rightfully be compared to “abstinence only” education, which has been proven similarly unwise and ineffective.

If this quid pro quo is to be effective in reducing high-risk drinking, the Hanlon administration will have to make substantive concessions to the student body—concessions that will likely make more puritanical members of the administration uncomfortable. Regarding freshman dormitory “pregames,” an “open-door policy” in dormitories coupled with a strict ban on hard alcohol possession by minors is a potential compromise that would increase the safety of students. The open-door policy would allow freshmen to have friends over to their rooms for a drink, but would require that any such gathering leave its door open so that UGAs or Safety & Security could ensure that hard liquor was not being consumed and that the students were drinking responsibly. Any “pregame” violating the open-door or hard alcohol policies could be reported to S&S and harshly punished by the College. Policies of this nature have been successfully implemented at peer institutions like Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis. This proposed policy would not cause freshman “pregames” to spring up across campus; they already exist. It would merely increase student safety at the “pregames” that are already occurring every weekend across campus.

In the Greek houses and other residences housing students of drinking age, a strict ban on hard alcohol would be an infringement on rights guaranteed to those students under the law. Still, it is within the reasonable purview of the administration to ban liquor in settings where large groups are imbibing, even if large parts of that group are of-age. As such, a ban on hard alcohol at “tails” events or at Greek parties in general would be a logical step. However, as is true of the alcohol policy in dormitories, the existing SEMP (Social Events Management Procedures) regulations for alcohol consumption in Greek houses do not decrease the amount of alcohol consumed, but rather encourage more secretive practices. For all but the largest parties, the calculation used by the administration to determine how much beer to allow is that each student over the age of twenty-one will consume a maximum of one beer per hour. The presence of beer in excess of this unrealistic estimation is considered grounds for disciplinary action against a fraternity or sorority.

If the student body is to make a good faith pledge to eliminate hard alcohol in Dartmouth social life, and the administration is to strictly enforce that pledge, then the current policies regulating beer consumption need to be adjusted to reflect at least a semblance of rational consideration. It is evident that President Hanlon and his administration are between a rock and a hard place. Faced with an unrelenting tide of negative press and a contingent of students who will not be satisfied until Hanover is transformed into a radical, socialist commune, the administration evidently views its best course of action as the piecemeal destruction of the social institutions that these radicals deem objectionable. However, as Daegwon Chae, President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, stated:

Whether such a ban is the right thing for the administration comes down to incentives. What is the administration’s ultimate goal? Is it a flashy headline? Or is it constructive, step-wise improvements to social life on this campus? The former is easy, and likely ill-conceived (e.g. a blanket hard alcohol ban)… Although, at this moment, signs point to the former, we hold out hope that it is the latter.

We at The Dartmouth Review also hope that it is the latter and that the College will prioritize student safety over media appeasement.

John Hammel Strauss also contributed to this article.