Verbum Ultimum: Open Door Policy

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/9/15 7:25pm

The “Moving Dartmouth Forward” hard alcohol ban took effect nearly two weeks ago, and despite predictions of the policy’s negative repercussions, day-to-day student life has not seen any radical changes. Students have been notably mindful of the new restrictions — reports in an April 6 story from this newspaper indicate measured responses from students and Safety and Security officers alike. Greek leaders have taken steps to ensure that their houses’ members do not violate College policy. At this stage, however, what is concerning about the ban is not its immediate, visible effect on social events, but rather the prospect that administrators will ignore its long-term consequences.

The hard alcohol ban could pose a threat to the College’s commitment to inclusivity — the last of three areas the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee highlighted in their final proposal to College President Phil Hanlon. For many, the inclusive nature of the campus social life — specifically its open Greek scene — is one of the College’s most admirable and integral components. Over time, though, the restrictions and liabilities imposed by the ban could undermine this openness, limiting students’ freedom to attend parties and enter social spaces without an explicit invitation.

Yet administrators have not addressed how they will ensure that the hard alcohol ban does not also narrow student options for socializing or facilitate niche social groups. The College should articulate a vision of a campus social experience that students can also support, and it must integrate the hard alcohol ban into that framework. This editorial board would hope that this vision includes an accessible Greek system that regularly hosts events open to all students without fear of punishment. Detailed regulations on alcohol consumption — and more importantly, the threat of harsh sanctions — make closed events appear more attractive, even logical, to Greek leaders. With such great responsibility over the types of alcohol present at open, registered Greek events, it is tempting to remove the possibility of a serious infraction by limiting attendance.

The College must be willing to modify the alcohol policy to directly minimize this kind of reaction. Existing rules on alcohol that pre-date the hard alcohol ban force Greek houses to choose between offering beer and cider or wine and champagne at an event. These sorts of caveats deter houses from hosting open, registered events, which is a compelling reason to make changes to the policy — especially when permitting Greek houses to mix and match “soft” alcoholic drinks would not conflict with the College’s interest in student safety.

Moreover, the limitations placed on the type of drinks Greek houses can buy for events has financial implications. For some, dues can be a significant financial obstacle and may discourage participation in Greek social life. The ban’s use of alcohol-by-volume as a cut-off means that Greek houses may only purchase high-volume, low-alcohol drinks. Over time, it is much more expensive to buy only beer or wine than a mix of beer and spirits, necessitating a hike in social dues. This, too, is a serious deterrent to hosting College-compliant events — one to which administrators must pay attention.

Ultimately, the College must decide whether it cares about preserving one feature of the Greek system that enjoys widespread praise from students and alumni, affiliated or not — its openness. Exchanging this for more exclusive social gatherings is too high a price to pay for a campus that is only safer on the surface.

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