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The Dartmouth
May 28, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Brooks: A Misplaced Emphasis

The presidential steering committee will soon release its proposals on a multitude of issues, including high risk drinking, to the trustees. High-risk drinking is usually mentioned in the same breath as the fraternities, and, it seems clear that the College believes the Greek system contributes disproportionately to high-risk drinking. However, the constant focus on Greek houses ignores the other areas where high-risk drinking is occurring and could produce some unintended consequences.

There has been a clamp down on fraternities’ behavior recently, as can be seen by the recent punishments handed down to Psi Upsilon, Alpha Delta and Theta Delta Chi fraternities and rumors of more fraternities waiting in the wing. These punishments have been harsher than those previous, and Safety and Security walkthroughs now include enforcements that I haven’t seen in the past, such as counting cans, cases and even cups to formulate the amount of beer the fraternity is handing out. I am sure many, like myself, have heard that the third-party bartenders that are part of Psi U and AD’s sanctions could soon be applied to the system as a whole.

But I contend that the some of the more dangerous drinking habits are not taking place inside the fraternities. The focus on the fraternities ignores a huge swath of campus drinking. I would argue that the majority of risky drinking actually takes place outside of the basement scene. However, the fraternities bear the brunt of the punishment for alcohol-related infractions — although students invariably also drink outside of the frats, UGAs and community directors do not suffer the same consequences as fraternities. The frats provide a convenient whipping boy for administrators who can use them to deflect responsibility. In fact, the group of students with the highest risk of alcohol incidences isn’t even a part of the Greek system.

Freshmen overwhelmingly contribute to the alcohol incidences on campus. According to the most recent numbers available, 46 percent of all alcohol incidences come from one-fourth of the student population — the freshmen. And in an email, a member from the Dartmouth College Health Improvement Project told me, “The incidents tend to go down as the class year goes up. Averaging over [10] years, seniors have the lowest average number of alcohol incidents per month.” If the Greek system is such a large contributor to high-risk drinking, wouldn’t we expect to see the highest rates of incidences among the seniors who actually live in the houses and not among the freshmen who can’t pledge or even step foot in the fraternities for the first six weeks of fall?

The answer is no, and this isn’t surprising for two reasons — students become more responsible drinkers over time and the majority of freshmen aren’t getting drunk in the frats. A freshman comes into a fraternity and eventually may get a light beer. If he or she is lucky, a can. Maybe he or she will finish the can before being dragged by friends to a different fraternity.

We all know where freshmen are getting drunk — the students know, Safety and Security knows and administrators’ talk of an open-door policy shows that they too are aware that pre-games are a large contributor to high-risk drinking among our most at-risk group.

As a freshman, I attended many pre-games. Many of my friends and fellow ’15s also attended pre-games, mainly because it was and remains extremely difficult for freshmen to get drunk in a fraternity. If you want to drink as a freshman, you drink in a dorm or at an off-campus house and then you go out. A Safety and Security officer once mentioned to me that when he saw the freshman spilling out of the Choates, he thought, “I’ll see you later on Webster.”

This is not to say that fraternities are not partly responsible for drinking behaviors on campus. In the end, the frats must also change. Leaders from inside and outside the Greek system should, along with administrators, search for shared interests — we all have a shared interest to end high-risk behavior across the board — and develop new policy. Yet a heavy-handed nature toward the fraternities ignores much of the high-risk drinking at Dartmouth.