Verbum Ultimum: Acting on Alcohol

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 5/2/13 10:00pm

Earlier this week, The Dartmouth reported that the Interfraternity Council will likely ban freshmen from Greek houses where alcohol is being served for a portion of fall term. Last night, the IFC held a meeting for fraternity executives to voice their opinions regarding the potential new policy. While we commend the IFC for finally taking a proactive stance on high-risk drinking among freshmen, we recognize that there are potential upsides and potential downsides to this proposal, which may necessitate further changes to the College's residential policies.

There are admittedly a number of potential benefits to this policy. Keeping freshmen out of fraternities for a period at the beginning of fall may enable them to make the transition to college more smoothly and at their own pace. Freshmen would be forced to find alternative nighttime activities, and if they choose to consume alcohol, they would be limited to doing so in their residence halls, presumably under the supervision of undergraduate advisors and fellow classmates. This has the potential to create a safer environment for freshmen to learn their limits regarding alcohol, particularly for the large portion who will arrive without prior drinking experience. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the threat of losing rush eligibility for the following fall would appear to be a powerful deterrent to those tempted to set foot in a Greek house while alcohol is being served.

We are skeptical, however, of how effective this policy will be in promoting a healthier, safer and more inclusive social environment without concurrent changes in residential policies. It is certainly plausible that the first few weeks of fall term will see fewer Good Samaritan calls and a diminished incidence of sexual assault. Yet without more liberal policies for alcohol consumption in freshmen residence halls, we fear that the policy will encourage even more clandestine and high-risk drinking. If doors remained closed, freshman consuming hard alcohol around other freshmen who are unsure how to react when their friends have had too much to drink put each other at risk.

Moreover, this policy undoubtedly runs against the openness on which our Greek system has traditionally prided itself. It implies that freshmen are not welcome to participate in our campus' dominant social scene and, as a result, may significantly delay their full assimilation into the Dartmouth community. It is highly dubious whether self-enforcement in Greek houses is realistic and system-wide accountability will be maintained.

This proposal has the potential to fundamentally alter the freshman experience, perhaps for the better. If implemented, its broader effects will take time to ripple through our community. While we will obviously support any measure to improve the collective wellbeing of this campus, we urge the administration to support this student-driven effort by creating a freshman residential life experience more conducive to socializing in the residence halls.