Verbum Ultimum: Safety Over Sanctions

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 3/5/15 7:59pm

This past Monday, the Office of the President, Palaeopitus senior society and Student Assembly hosted a town meeting on “Moving Dartmouth Forward” where administrators announced details of sanctions to enforce the hard alcohol ban. Students found to possess or consume hard alcohol will face a graduated scale of sanctions, with College probation for the first offense. Students with more than three infractions may face sanctions up to permanent separation from the College, decided at the College’s discretion. The College will also impose stricter sanctions for students and organizations that provide hard alcohol to others. These sanctions indicate that administrators take the hard alcohol ban seriously and will punish infractions accordingly.

Judicial affairs director Leigh Remy, Safety and Security director Harry Kinne and Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer have all said that they expect students to follow the policies rather than break them, highlighting the faulty and naive logic behind the heightened sanctions. Students will break the policy, and assuming that they will not attempt to bend or break the rules is ignorant and foolish. The new punitive system reflects this unsound logic. For example, will students aged 21 and over who drink hard alcohol at a bar in town and then walk on campus be liable for College probation? Technically, that is a first offense of public intoxication of hard alcohol on College grounds. Further, how does the College expect to distinguish which publicly intoxicated students have consumed “beer or wine” category beverages only and which have consumed alcohol higher than 30 proof? These sanctions, while strict, are seriously flawed in terms of enforcement.

Despite administrators’ insistences that the College’s Good Samaritan policy will remain, in the words of Ameer, “the same on March 28th as it is now,” these policies communicate an intent to instill fear in the student body — and may even deter students from making a Good Samaritan call. The new sanctions can only be successful if students actually trust that the College will keep this promise. Otherwise, drinking — particularly high-risk incidents that may require medical attention — will be driven underground, and these policies may do more harm than good. Remy herself noted that students complained that College policies are often difficult to interpret — not all students will follow our coverage closely or attend town hall meetings. Not all students may even read the new policy, and those who do not may assume that the Good Sam option is no longer available to those who consume hard alcohol. Further, the policies themselves indicate an interest in punishment rather than student health and may therefore cause student distrust of both administrators and College safety officials, as well as other students. In the case of undergraduate advisors, who are now tasked with heightened disciplinary duties, students will either end up working against administrators collectively or the trust will be broken between those students accountable for others’ safety and the ones who should trust them the most.

As we have said before and must re-emphasize here, hospital transports are an extremely reductive and simplistic metric of unhealthy drinking habits on campus. In fact, almost every study cited on the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” page for additional resources had no differentiation between hard alcohol and other, lower-proof alcoholic beverages. Students can just as easily continue high-risk patterns of alcohol consumption. In the presidential steering committee’s final report, high-risk drinking is defined as four drinks for a woman and five for a man — the amount consumed in a couple of games of pong. In fact, the report also includes an entire paragraph dedicated to the College’s subculture of excessive beer consumption, referencing “pong,” “doming” and “booting and rallying” as examples of related, insidious behaviors. These behaviors will certainly continue under the ban, and restricting students’ access to other forms of alcohol may even encourage this culture of unhealthy consumption of beer. Yes, the number of medical transports may be reduced when hard alcohol is removed from the equation, but binge drinking will live on. Remy reminds students to look back at the presidential steering committee’s report and “remember the people behind each of those 135 visits to Dick’s House or the hospital,” but what about all the other students who are affected by binge drinking?

Of course, as Hanlon noted in an interview with The Dartmouth on Monday, “it’s an ambitious undertaking … and that’s hard.” While Hanlon was speaking about “Moving Dartmouth Forward” generally, he’s right in the context of this ban — such an ambitious move is hard. We hope that the College will recognize these flaws and attempt to address them in coming weeks. If administrators truly have students’ safety in mind, they must address the inconsistencies in the policy, clearly communicate the policy’s effect on the Good Sam policy to all students and acknowledge binge drinking in a more holistic way. Such change is difficult, but necessary. Ultimately, if these sanctions prove to be ineffective, the College must also be open to their re-evaluation — student safety is more important than publicity and pride.

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