Simineri: Don’t Blame it on the Alcohol

by Nicole Simineri | 2/8/15 7:01pm

College President Phil Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan fails to address sexism, racism and other forms of exclusivity. Rather, the hard alcohol ban exacerbates them, creating situations in which binge drinking and sexual assault are more likely to occur. The policy targets women and shifts the blame for sexual assault from misunderstandings about sex and consent to alcohol, essentially making this policy another form of victim blaming.

Hard alcohol will likely not disappear from campus. While no one wants to risk jeopardizing their academic and professional careers with disciplinary action from the College, many students will drink if they wish to. To avoid being spotted by Safety and Security, some students will likely move hard alcohol from more public spaces like Greek houses to private dorm rooms. Students may actively search for the very substances that are banned — known as the “forbidden fruit effect.” Numerous studies have shown that prohibitory laws often increase the proscribed behavior. The failure of such laws can be seen throughout history, with perhaps the most notable example being Prohibition. Ironically, it is a similar policy to this catastrophic regulation that “Moving Dartmouth Forward” will implement.

Though random Safety and Security walkthroughs discourage binge drinking in Greek houses, students in private dorms do not face such deterrents. With the hard alcohol ban, administrators have sacrificed a significant part of their ability to supervise students and keep them safe.

The ban also discourages students from using the College’s resources. Dartmouth’s Good Samaritan policy is a great safety net for intoxicated students. The policy, however, has not always been so enticing. Its initial focus on outright disciplinary action discouraged students from using this otherwise valuable resource. In 2005, the College made the policy more attractive by shifting the focus to helping students with counseling and education rather than discipline. With the hard alcohol ban — and the ambiguity as to what this means for the Good Samaritan policy — students may again be wary of seeking aid for their peers and themselves for fear of punishment.

Moreover, forcing hard alcohol into private spaces may create more situations that are conducive to sexual assault. Students will be able to lure other students to their private rooms with the prospect of hard alcohol — invitations that many students on a campus just learning to cope with and circumvent the ban may be inclined to accept. This applies to first-year students in particular, who are generally not old enough to purchase their own alcohol and do not yet have close relationships with older students. As a result, they may be more inclined to accept invitations from strangers or acquaintances. Safely tucked outside of administrators’ sight, these spaces make sexual assault more likely.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the policy singles out the generally preferred choice of alcohol for college-aged women. According to the 2012 Office of National Statistics report, college-aged women generally opt for hard alcohol rather than beer or wine. Yet, as Douglas Goodman astutely points out in his Jan. 30 letter to the editor, it is beer — not hard alcohol — that is most often associated with binge drinking. Instead of addressing the issue as to why people commit sexual assault in the first place, this policy paternalistically “protects” women from becoming victims rather than preventing perpetrators from assaulting. Perhaps the policy was not intended to target women in particular, but it nonetheless does.

Regardless, in banning any form of alcohol the policy inherently shifts the blame from people to alcohol. The ban sends a clear message to perpetrators of sexual violence — “it’s not your fault, it’s just the alcohol.” Yet no matter how drunk I am, I will never be inclined to murder because an aversion to killing has been socially ingrained in me — and the same should hold true for sexual assault. The substances are not the problem. The problem is a system that fails to address sexism and tries to mitigate sexual assault by banning hard alcohol instead of creating mainstream, female-dominated social spaces. If you think that banning hard alcohol will do anything but exacerbate issues of binge drinking, sexual assault and victim blaming on this campus, then you are part of the problem.