Green: Speaking of Enforcement

by Isaac Green | 2/11/15 6:45pm

Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that the College’s attitudes toward alcohol and underage drinking are misinformed. I would like to believe that this institution — more focused on the undergraduate experience than many of its peers — would have taken the lead in putting students first. Alas, the tenor and rhetoric of administrators lead me to believe that those making policy decisions are either primarily concerned with public image or are shockingly unaware of the way that college-aged people interact with each other and alcohol.

A hard alcohol ban has potential, as I wrote in my Jan. 30 column after the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan was announced. The College’s current trajectory in terms of alcohol policy, however, is far from helping to realize this potential and instead seems doomed to make things worse. Nicole Simineri outlined the potential consequences of a blanket ban on hard alcohol in her Feb 9. column, including a greater imbalance in the power dynamics between upperclassmen and underclassmen — particularly in favor of upperclassmen males — and an overall increase in exclusivity. While I agree with many of Simineri’s conclusions, I believe many of them only apply if the hard alcohol ban is enforced in the wrong way.

Colleges across the nation cannot flout state laws prohibiting minors from imbibing, but their disciplinary policies regarding alcohol do not need to enforce state law, either. In fact, some colleges — such as Stanford University, which in 2010 received an exemption from a Santa Clara County underage drinking ordinance — have “open door” policies, where drinking beer and wine is acceptable in dorms or common spaces provided that authority figures can walk by to ensure that everyone is being safe. Other colleges that have instituted hard alcohol bans — including Bowdoin College and Colby College — combine those efforts with decreased consequences for drinking other forms of alcohol. Dartmouth would do well to look at these schools as examples when forming alcohol policies over the next several months.

Unfortunately, alcohol policy enforcement at the College seems to be going in the other direction. College President Phil Hanlon both espouses the need for a hard alcohol ban and reiterates the College’s commitment to curb underage drinking of any kind. He has mentioned requiring undergraduate advisors to perform rounds, increasing the number of Safety and Security officers and mandating bartenders and bouncers at social events. Perhaps worst of all, his attitude seems to suggest that with aggressive enough enforcement, underage drinking can be prevented on this campus. This is patently false, but will no doubt trickle down through the institutional ranks. As long as there are stores that sell alcohol within reach of campus, all students — including those underage — will likely continue to drink. Even if administrators significantly decrease the ease with which students are able to drink, the cost of such actions — to the student experience and personal liberty, to prospective students and to the inclusive social scene that Dartmouth has always touted as one of its biggest strengths — would be far too great to justify the benefits.

Assuming that President Hanlon is open to working with students rather than against them, I would stress to him that the College cannot couple a hard alcohol ban with an enforcement campaign against all forms of drinking and expect to succeed at eradicating high-risk drinking. Instead, the new policies will likely drive drinking off-campus and into private spaces and destroy what inclusivity there is in our social life and the progress the College has made in protecting students from harm when they drink in excess. It would make more sense to ban hard alcohol and make sanctions for being caught with it severe, while also making it easier to serve and consume beer and wine at events. This would give individuals, as well as clubs, teams and Greek organizations a much greater incentive to follow this ban. Pragmatic College policy would recognize that underage drinking will not be eliminated. If President Hanlon wants Dartmouth to be a national leader in addressing binge drinking, then he should focus on reducing harm, rather than decreeing that it go away.