Verbum: Double-Ban Dilemma

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/22/15 7:20pm

The Greek Leadership Council’s six-week ban on first-year students entering Greek houses has been enforced each fall for three years now. Safety and Security director Harry Kinne has said that the policy has had a consistent, positive effect. He did not have specific numbers to corroborate this claim.

As seems to be the case with many policies, the freshman ban has been judged on a qualitative basis. Yet any major initiative, administrative and student-led alike, should be held to a much more rigorous standard. All theoretical justifications for a policy have weak spots that must be addressed by real-world evidence. But without comprehensive data from the years before and after the policy’s enactment, we have an imprecise sense of whether it is actually beneficial to cordon off first-years from the core of our social scene for their first six weeks here.

We are therefore surprised that GLC representatives were likewise unable to provide any convincing evidence that their policy has been helpful. College data seems like the most obvious metric by which to evaluate the policy. Has there been a reduction in alcohol-related incidents for freshmen in their fall terms since the policy began — not just in Greek houses, but everywhere? It goes without saying that the policy would not be justified if it had merely shifted the locale where students engage in high-risk behavior, rather than the total incidence.

The hard alcohol ban makes the need for statistical analysis even more apparent. We would expect the hard alcohol ban to have blunted the original concerns about freshman alcohol use that prompted the GLC policy — devised in a previous era when freshmen could still access liquor in fraternities without severe consequences. Since no Greek house — regardless of the imbibing student’s age — can stock liquor anymore, the danger of rapid intoxication that freshmen used to face in Greek houses no longer exists. The majority of brand-new students are not going to be playing back-to-back games of pong in basements, and likely will not get as drunk off Keystone as they would have with access to hard alcohol.

Of course, the hard alcohol ban is much easier to evade in individual freshman dorm rooms, where Safety and Security walkthroughs are generally done on an as-needed, rather than random, basis. We wonder if the GLC ban has perhaps limited the ability to supervise freshmen. If they are going to break the rules, is it better if they do so by downing vodka among themselves in their rooms or by drinking beer in a fraternity basement — with the AMP-mandated two Safety and Security walkthroughs a night? Most would agree that the latter, in which upperclassmen can also intervene or call for help, is preferable.

If we all care about the safety of freshmen, it follows that we would not encourage them to hide their drinking habits from the rest of the school behind closed doors. In so doing, we would be sabotaging the harm-reduction approach to drinking. Yet that is more or less what the GLC ban has done. From a practical standpoint, the freshman ban would appear to make it more difficult for Safety and Security to monitor all students on social nights. Segregated social scenes result in a greater number of areas where alcohol-related incidents might occur, whereas previously students were generally concentrated in a known, constrained list of places. We are surprised, then, that Kinne does not share our reservations about the policy.

If the GLC could quantifiably demonstrate that this campus is safer for freshmen because of its initiative, most of our concerns would be laid to rest. We would applaud Greek leaders for their commitment to improving first-years’ initial social experiences at Dartmouth. If the policy has failed to produce any measurable results, however, we would urge the GLC to consider alternative ways to ensure the well-being of freshmen. Above all else, self-regulation for the Greek system should be concerned with delivering demonstrable improvements in student life and safety, not just rhetoric.