Verbum Ultimum: Safety First

Campus leaders have a responsibility to assuage students’ fears about potential threats on campus.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 5/27/22 4:15am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Earlier this week, The Dartmouth reported on the increased discussion of the use of “roofies” or date-rape drugs on campus. Although sources from the College suggest a lack of official reports to back up the rumors that date-rape drug use has increased, one thing is clear: Students fear that they or their friends will be roofied. In many ways, this fear is not unfounded; the idea of unintentionally blacking out for hours and never regaining the memory of that period is terrifying. After all, anything could have happened during that period of time, and you would have no memory of it.

Nonetheless, the best way to handle this situation is with reason and information — a hard ask in the face of paralyzing — and understandable — worry, but also a more effective method of preventing harm. Learning what to do if you suspect that you or a friend has been roofied, how to create an environment that reduces the risk of date-rape drug use and how to report a potential drugging incident may come with difficult conversations, but would also provide students with some tangible ways to deal with this issue.

Concerningly, most of campus has become aware of date-rape drugs through stories and rumors. Despite several weeks of whispers between friends, or even friends of friends, this week was the first time that, to our knowledge, any College employee has publicly commented about the situation. To be fair, there are very few official reports of roofies; nonetheless, alleviating students’ fear with something as simple as a campus-wide email — one that legitimizes students’ concerns and provides helpful education to the student body — would be of far more help than the silence of the administration thus far.

While the College has a significant role to play in addressing student concerns, we recognize that leaders within the student body itself are also crucial in these conversations. Despite fervent efforts on the part of the Sexual Assault Peer Alliance to offer education to Greek spaces, few houses took up the group’s invitation to educate members on safety regarding date-rape drugs. At most, the Inter-Sorority Council sent member sororities an email with basic information about date-rape drugs that chapters shared with their individual members. Given their accessibility to campus, their lack of oversight and the copious amounts of alcohol they offer, Greek houses are easy targets for predatory behavior. Having these conversations in Greek spaces — including fraternities, the primary social space on campus and where the majority of drugging incidents are rumored to have occurred — is therefore especially important. 

Education about the realities date-rape drugs is crucial to creating a safe environment for students, especially when fear and misinformation fueled by the rumor mill circulate so easily among the student body. For example, the idea that outsiders bring date-rape drugs into campus social spaces may stoke some students’ fears — but in reality, this form of “stranger danger” is in many cases just a scary story. Focusing on this narrative rather than critically examining the rape culture present on our campus causes the student body to focus on risks that are less pervasive over real, systemic issues.

Another part of awareness is recognizing that date-rape drugs can impact people differently. These drugs can interact with other medications students may be taking and lead to unpredictable effects, meaning that signs and symptoms may differ drastically across individuals. Similarly, as there are hundreds of substances that can be used as date-rape drugs, there is often no easy way to objectively determine if students were drugged — most readily available test kits are prohibitively expensive and only test for a handful of substances. And while much of the language surrounding roofies focuses on substances like Rohypnol and GHB, the most common date-rape drug of all is alcohol — if students are unaware of the strength of their drinks or pressured to drink more than they intend, they may experience symptoms that mirror those caused by more commonly feared substances. If students are taught to fear Rohypnol but disregard the often nonconsensual nature of Dartmouth’s extreme drinking culture, this problem will not go away.

When so little is known about an issue that students fear so much, the answer isn’t to simply ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Campus leaders — both students and administrators — must not wait until there are numerous reports or official data to warrant a response. Rather, we all must be proactive in cultivating a safe culture and campus. It is easy to dismiss rumors as nothing more than trivial gossip; however, when that “gossip” concerns something serious enough to cause major harm, choosing ignorance is both irresponsible and a slap in the face to the student body. We urge leaders around campus, from those in Greek spaces to those in the administration, to refrain from sweeping this issue away or engaging in fear-mongering; instead, provide students with the information and knowledge they need to feel safe. 

Production executive editor Mia Russo ’23 was not involved in the writing or editing of this week’s Verbum Ultimum due to a conflict of interest.

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