Verbum Ultimum: Raise the Bar

BarHop — or a campus bar — should be a permanent feature at the College.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 1/19/18 1:00am

BarHop, a College-sponsored program that provided students with weekly social events at the Hopkins Center for the Arts from February 2014 through May 2017, was suspended indefinitely last November. The program, which utilized three rooms of the Hopkins Garage to offer an arts and crafts space, host regular performances from student bands or groups and provide a dance club-like area, also served alcohol to students of legal drinking age free of charge. The hiatus, brought on due to staffing and space issues, according to an email statement from Joshua Kol ’93, director of student performance programs at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, has closed down one of few successful alternative social spaces at the College.

To many students, BarHop represented a welcoming social space outside of Greek organizations. Bringing BarHop — or a similar program — back to campus would be a positive move. Ideally, student leaders and College staff could work together to organize this program, through alumni or student donations or College funds. Administrators who claim commitment to developing alternative social spaces would be well advised to give BarHop a second look.

College administrators — and many students — have long struggled with Dartmouth’s social focus on the Greek system, in which cultural norms and social pressures can be harmful and exclusivist, arguably contributing to excessive alcohol consumption and sexual misconduct. More tangibly, the campus’ geographic isolation significantly curtails students’ social landscape; with limited options for socializing in town, a large portion of student activities at Dartmouth are frequently confined to Greek spaces.

The administration has responded with initiatives like Moving Dartmouth Forward, which includes a hard alcohol ban and a restructuring of Dartmouth’s housing system to establish community-based living. The new house communities have been moderately successful in attracting students to participate in events, but the effort may still be perceived as a paternalistic and top-down construct imposed upon the student body, potentially harming its credibility to students. The creation of social spaces that provide students with an inclusive, appealing and safer alternative needs to be a ground-up, student-driven effort. For such an endeavor to succeed, it ought to be based upon a better understanding of students’ needs and social dynamics.

Students themselves bear some of the responsibility for Dartmouth’s failure to create appealing alternative social spaces. Surely the administration can do more to ensure sufficient funding, advice and support for students looking to bring ideas and projects to fruition, but students also need to be open to the College’s support. Relative to students at schools with stricter policies, larger enrollments and thinner pockets, students who are passionate and inspired to take initiative at Dartmouth may find that their goals are potentially achievable. Significant time commitments and the stress of a typical course load are not always easy to bypass, but student-led change is and has been possible.

If logistical hurdles represent the primary obstacle to reopening BarHop, Dartmouth could instead sponsor a new campus bar in its own dedicated space that would allow students to experience a similar atmosphere. Campus bars function at institutions like Brown University, University of Chicago, Rice University and many other schools. At Dartmouth, student participation and leadership at the planning level could create a sense of ownership in that space while well-orchestrated, student-led supervision could create a safe atmosphere for students to drink responsibly. Bartenders could undergo training with Sexual Assault Peer Advisors and Movement Against Violence models, which would provide comfort for those who have either experienced sexual harassment or fear being subjected to it. As an incentive to attract students, the College could also consider lifting the hard alcohol ban solely for that campus bar space — or for BarHop — giving students the option to consume mixed drinks while implementing safeguards like limits on the number of drinks per student.

Support for a campus bar is high. According to a survey of around 700 undergraduates conducted from Jan. 16 to Jan. 18 by College Pulse for The Dartmouth, as of press time, 48 percent of respondents from the Class of 2018 attended BarHop at least occasionally. Eighty percent of respondents from the Class of 2018 said they would be likely or extremely likely to attend BarHop if the program were to return, and 91 percent said they would support a campus bar. Ninety-four percent of respondents from the Class of 2019 would also support a bar, as would roughly 83 percent of all students surveyed. Members of the classes of 2020 and 2021 were less likely to have heard of BarHop, but large majorities of each supported the idea of a campus bar. Currently, 57 percent of students surveyed claim they sometimes or often consume alcohol at off-campus venues.

However, the appeal of a campus bar goes well beyond the alcohol it serves. Many students choose not to drink and those not of legal age would be unable to do so at the venue, but a bar atmosphere and social events like trivia or musical performances could still draw their participation. A dedicated and primarily student-staffed bar space could be a social draw for many and a boon to Dartmouth’s campus culture.

If the administration intends to make students safer, happier and freer from social norms or pressures, it needs to act not as a coercive, interdictory force but rather as a permissive agent for positive social change. Administrators should opt to encourage good behavior rather than ban what they consider risky or harmful. A campus bar could offer students a more inclusive — and hopefully safer — alternative to existing spaces. BarHop was a viable option. The program was popular with students and was regularly attended — lines stretched out the door on many nights. Collis After Dark, Microbrew Mondays and Friday Night Rock also promote healthy social alternatives by and for Dartmouth students. The College should continue to fund and encourage these programs and consider a permanent location and status for BarHop or an equivalent establishment. Students need new choices, and an administration that has been skeptical of existing social spaces would be well advised to promote and fund such student-led and staffed initiatives.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the associate opinion editor, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

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