Verbum Ultimum: Ban Responsibly

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 2/12/15 7:40pm

A campus hard alcohol ban was perhaps the most significant policy change that College President Phil Hanlon announced in his Jan. 29 “Moving Dartmouth Forward” address. Since then, colleges and national media outlets alike have debated the merits of the ban. Beyond the College’s talking points, there does not seem to be widespread agreement that this is indeed the way forward. The justification and arguments for the ban leave us unconvinced that this was the best possible tool at administrators’ disposal to ensure student safety and well-being.

First, it is disappointing that Hanlon did not disclose or explicitly cite the research underlying the hard alcohol ban. We had hoped, as we stated in our Jan. 23 editorial, that the College would announce such a major policy change with evidence that makes its reasoning clear. The presidential steering committee’s final report includes a long bibliography in the appendix — but cites just two sources in the actual hard alcohol section of the document, with no stated reference to the data that led the committee to its conclusion. Not enough effort was made to make this policy transparent, and as a result, we are left wondering why it was chosen in the first place.

This apparent focus on rhetoric and public image suggests that the College did not thoroughly consider all possible outcomes of its ban. In her Feb. 9 column, “Don’t Blame it on the Alcohol,” Nicole Simineri ’17 brought attention to the fact that women opt for liquor over beer and wine, which raises the possibility that the ban will have a disproportionate effect on female students. And as Douglas Goodman pointed out in his Jan. 30 letter to the editor, two studies have shown that beer is more strongly correlated to binge drinking. The College seems more concerned with appearing to take a tough stand on alcohol rather than devising a rigorous and effective policy, as Hanlon’s plan does not address the fact that binge drinking can occur with all alcoholic drinks.

Moreover, if administrators are seriously concerned with tackling binge drinking, rather than simply hiding it from public view, then they should not flatten their measurement of the problem into a single, misleading metric — hospital transports. One of the stated arguments in favor of the ban is that most medical transports from Dick’s House to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center involve hard alcohol consumption. But medical transports are only a subset of all binge drinking incidents, and only occur in specific circumstances, like when students request medical assistance for an intoxicated friend. Most binge drinkers — a category which includes any man who drinks over four beers and any woman who drinks over three beers in one night — do not go to DHMC. Medical transport incidents can even fall as overall drinking rates increase, as they have here at Dartmouth.

The hard alcohol ban and surrounding rhetoric indicate that administrators do not fully grasp what binge drinking looks like and why it is a problem. An unhealthy culture of alcohol consumption will persist regardless of whether the alcohol comes from a liquor bottle or a can of beer. At the very least, the College must take these concerns into consideration when developing a detailed plan for implementation.