Alston: Paved with Good Intentions

by Will Alston | 1/29/15 10:43pm

College President Phil Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” address certainly has a number of noble ambitions, most prominently the effort to reduce high-risk drinking — but as the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Not only does his proposed ban on hard alcohol create a number of possibilities for dangerous situations with regards to risk-management, it will have the effect of increasing campus social stratification and further privileging those with access to alcohol.

Parties in dormitories with hard alcohol certainly are high-risk affairs, but this is because they are relatively exclusive events with little or no supervision or responsibility. Under the new liquor policy, the people who presumably have more knowledge of the risks of alcohol — those over the age of 21 — are technically prevented from hosting these events as well. Inexperienced freshmen will now be even more likely to experiment with hard alcohol on their own, without supervision or guidance by people who know better. This could lead to more Good Samaritan calls and, frighteningly, more sexual assaults.

Under the new setup, freshmen with social contacts to upperclassmen through campus organizations — and crucially, with the money necessary to purchase clandestine booze at possibly inflated prices by the ban — will have an even greater social privilege than they did before. The increasingly limited access of freshmen to Greek organizations already creates serious social stratification on this campus, and the ban will only make things worse for those who are not both well-connected and well-off.

It’s high time this administration started being serious if it truly wants to create social substitute for events run by Greek organizations. By formally preventing student associations, like athletic teams and a cappella groups, from serving liquor at social events — which costs less compared to beer in terms of alcohol content — the administration has struck a blow against a serious alternative to Greek organizations. The power of these alternatives comes from the fact that they are student-run institutions that can serve any kind of alcohol and have the resources to do so en masse.

People both over and under the legal drinking age are going to drink whenever they want to, which is why College-run events like BarHop and Microbrews may never be serious social alternatives. The correct way to deal with the (perceived) problem of Greek-centric social life is to empower alternatives, not to repress them. In this sense, “Moving Dartmouth Forward” is actually a significant step backward.