Allen: Hands Off My Handle!
The hard alcohol ban is useless; Dartmouth must replace it with a more meaningful regulation.
This column is featured in the 2022 Green Key special issue.
Earlier this month, a friend of mine invited me to Molly’s Restaurant and Bar to celebrate her 21st birthday. My friend enjoyed her first “Molly’s marg,” and others at the table who were also of legal drinking age joined along, ordering various mixed drinks. In various levels of sobriety, we separated at the end of the night and made our way back to campus.
Were we to have consumed those margaritas on campus — less than half a mile from Molly’s, where the metaphorical tap flows freely to students of legal drinking age — we would have faced the wrath of Dartmouth’s hard alcohol ban.
Established in 2015 as part of President Phil Hanlon’s sweeping Moving Dartmouth Forward campaign, the hard alcohol ban prohibits the possession or consumption of alcohol with a proof of 30 or higher — which is equivalent to 15% alcohol by volume — anywhere on Dartmouth’s campus or in connection with any Dartmouth functions. The penalties for violating the hard alcohol policy are harsh: Individuals caught possessing or consuming hard alcohol will face a “hard alcohol warning” for their first offense and suspensions for subsequent offenses — and organizations like Greek houses can face multi-term suspensions and future limits to alcohol consumption on their grounds.
In theory, this policy was brought about with the goal of protecting the health of the student body. In practice, however, the hard alcohol “ban” is ridiculed and ignored by the student body, forcing hard alcohol consumption underground where dangerous use may occur.
Truth be told, I do not drink, so I have little firsthand experience with the culture surrounding hard alcohol. However, stories from friends have taught me that hard alcohol is far more prevalent at Dartmouth than its “ban” would suggest — especially in Greek spaces and in other on-campus housing. It sounds difficult to find hard alcohol in Greek basements, since houses would prefer not to face the wrath of the College. Upstairs, however, is a different ballgame. In private rooms — both in Greek houses and in dorms — students are less likely to interact with the Department of Safety and Security and other agents of the College, so hard alcohol goes almost unregulated.
Relegating hard alcohol into strictly private spaces generates many new risks. For one, forcing hard alcohol consumption into private spaces decreases its visibility within the house. This prevents sober monitors and risk managers — individuals who are responsible for ensuring that high-risk situations are prevented at Greek events — as well as Safety and Security officers from intervening if necessary. In this way, high-risk alcohol consumption — be it shots or drinking straight from the bottle — happens in private and without scrutiny, heightening the risk of sexual assault or alcohol poisoning within these spaces.
Outside of student health, the hard alcohol ban is simply hypocritical. Any student aged 21 years or older — who can otherwise purchase and possess hard alcohol legally — can still face harsh penalties despite not breaking the law in New Hampshire. If neighborhood liquor stores, supermarkets and restaurants can sell alcohol with a higher than 15% alcohol concentration, the hard alcohol ban is doing little more than restricting legal adults from consuming alcohol as they please. Now, it is true that a number of students under 21 years old would likely consume hard alcohol after this ban is lifted. But this is college, after all, and age alone has prevented few students from consuming alcohol themselves.
If, as I argue, the College gets rid of the hard alcohol ban, what comes next?
Regulation. The College should require individuals and organizations seeking to allow liquor consumption to meet strict training and storage requirements. Hard alcohol should be registered with Safety and Security so they know how much is around campus, and organizations — especially Greek houses — should be expected to follow limits on the quantity of hard alcohol they can allow in their physical plants. What’s more, Dartmouth should restrict the use or possession of hard alcohol in public spaces during registered campus events to prevent shots from going haywire.
In other words, the College should remove the veil of secrecy currently surrounding hard alcohol and allow students to act in the ways they currently do without fear of harsh repercussions.
I do recognize that the hard alcohol ban was created out of legitimate concern for the safety and well-being of students. Playing pong with hard alcohol is a disaster waiting to happen. But, is the hard alcohol ban really the best way to improve student safety on campus? The regulation itself cannot independently make Dartmouth safer. To be sure, the ban was part of larger efforts to reduce high-risk drinking and sexual violence. In a world without the hard alcohol ban, those efforts should still continue in earnest. However, the hard alcohol ban itself is nothing more than a worthless vestige of the high hopes of Dartmouth’s administration. We can still make a concerted effort to improve the safety of campus for all without unnecessarily encroaching on the personal lives of students.
Despite the College’s best efforts, the hard alcohol ban ought to go. An outright ban has not successfully eliminated hard alcohol consumption but rather relegated it into hiding. With the discrepancies in regulation of hard alcohol between the Town and the College, banning hard alcohol has always been — and will continue to be — an impossible battle to fight.