Alcohol policy undergoes major shifts, change to come uncertain

The student body received an email from Lili Rodriguez, dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development, on August 27th announcing three changes to the campus alcohol and party policy.

One of the changes is the creation of a formal medical amnesty policy for violations of the “Alcohol and Other Drugs” section of the Student Code of Conduct. While the school had been known to provide leniency in some such cases, this new policy formalizes the rules surrounding substance-related emergencies. Administrators hope that a limited immunity in emergency situations will encourage students to seek help. The new medical amnesty policy applies to both the individual in need of assistance and the individual who seeks assistance, even if these individuals are one and the same. In this measure, Swarthmore’s medical amnesty policy departs from the Pennsylvania state amnesty policy, which only provides immunity to the person seeking assistance. The new amnesty policy takes precedence over the Pennsylvania law only in situations adjudicated by Swarthmore College. If a student needs to leave campus to be treated during an emergency situation, the Pennsylvania law takes effect.

Additionally, the immunity afforded by the AOD policy apply only to violations of rules that pertain to alcohol and other drugs. Although the policy states that the medical amnesty policy may act as a “mitigating factor” in the disciplinary process for other infractions, AOD amnesty does not provide true immunity in those cases. Behaviors specifically mentioned as outside the bounds of the AOD amnesty include “assault, hazing, harassment, [and] vandalism.”

In the case that a student contacts or uses emergency services and utilizes the AOD amnesty in doing so, the college will still ask that student to have a confidential discussion with the school’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor, meet with another College official, attend an educational course, or some combination of the above. Students who fail to fulfill these requirements will have their immunity revoked and will be rerouted to the disciplinary process.

The new policy also bans the presence of hard alcohol at registered campus events. Upperclassmen over the age of 21 will still be able to keep liquor in their rooms, and gatherings with fewer than 30 people won’t be subject to the ban. Rodriguez expressed hope that maintaining liquor-free spaces would be a shared effort. “We hope all students will hold one another accountable,” she said.  “Whether it’s the host, SWAT Team members hired, or any bystander at the party — if there is a situation or behavior that concerns you, please report it to public safety immediately.  It is everyone’s responsibility to care for one another.” In addition to the hard alcohol ban mentioned in the August email, the updated Student Code of Conduct also disallows the use of vessels commonly used for hard alcohol, specifically mentioning “punches and party bowls.”

Some among the student body fear that this restriction could have undesirable side effects. Denied the presence of liquor at parties, some students may engage in potentially dangerous “pre-gaming” behavior. One resident assistant who wished to remain anonymous because of their  position said, “Banning hard liquor at parties may encourage students to consume more alcohol in their dorm rooms prior to the party. It may also encourage students to consume hard liquor in secret or isolation, habits that constitute unhealthy drinking patterns.” Alex Moscowitz ’15 said, “I think that [the changed AOD policy] will either increase the number of parties that have smaller numbers, or it will decrease the number of registered parties, and parties with larger numbers probably won’t register the fact that they’re over 30 people.”

The new policy also bans drinking games. While the email from Rodriguez specified the use of drinking paraphernalia as newly disallowed, the actual text from the Student Code of Conduct is much more general, referring to any “activities, games, and/or other behaviors” that encourage alcohol abuse. Behaviors and equipment specifically mentioned in the policy as disallowed are “funnels, keg stands, ‘around-the-world’ parties, flip cup, quarters, beer pong, Beirut, and power hour”. Rodriguez argued that the difference is quite arbitrary.

“We leaned on paraphernalia because it’s blatant and obvious.  Anything can be a drinking game, right? … We hope that the spirit of this regulation is what students understand,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to put themselves in dangerous situations or to pressure others to drink irresponsibly through use of paraphernalia or drinking games. However, in practice, it’s going to be easier to spot a funnel than to determine whether the poker game people were playing was leading to rapid consumption of alcohol.”

It is unclear where exactly lines will be drawn regarding these new rules. Moscowitz expressed doubts as to the enforceability of the new policies. “Traditionally Swarthmore has been mercifully relaxed on enforcement of alcohol policy and I think to a degree this reflects a change in policy, but I don’t think they’ll be remarkably successful in banning drinking games or hard alcohol consumption … in the general sense I don’t think much will change” he said, “people will probably keep things a lot more under wraps than they used to, but that’s the only effect I foresee”.

Rodriguez emphasized that the decision to change these rules was grounded in fact and that the process used a diverse range of evidence including outside studies, review of peer schools’ policies, case studies at Swarthmore, and Swarthmore-specific statistics. The August email noted that only one other college that Swarthmore reviewed allowed hard alcohol at campus parties. In response to concerns that the new hard alcohol and drinking game bans are unnecessary, she said, “Over 70 percent of parties registered last year used primarily hard liquor.  Given the wealth of empirical data and understanding about college-drinking behaviors now available, we also know that hard liquor is particularly dangerous because it is ingested at faster rates than beer or wine and often mixed with sweet drinks that mask the alcohol being consumed.  We’ve had lots of cases of students blacking out after having what they thought was ‘one or two’ drinks but were likely significantly more servings than they assumed.”

When confronted with the idea that a hard alcohol ban could increase the risks related to pre-gaming, Rodriguez again stood by her argument, saying that the idea “is a popular myth that pops up whenever drinking policies are enforced or changed … the last decade of research has not shown this to be the case, whether it’s a city increasing their enforcement of underage drinking laws or a college/university doing the same.” She specifically cited Colby’s hard liquor ban and institution of dry common spaces, changes which were not followed by any increase in alcohol related hospitalization rates.

Many of the questions related to the policy changes are still up in the air. To what extent and with which tools these new policies will be enforced remains to be seen.

3 thoughts on “Alcohol policy undergoes major shifts, change to come uncertain

  • September 4, 2014 at 8:41 am

    We have a “dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development”? And this is the person who is responsible for communicating the college’s alcohol policy to students?

    I suppose it’s too late to question why a college that does little more than wring its hands about diversity needs a special dean to focus on it. It appears that Ms. Rodriguez has so little to do in the diversity/inclusion department that she can be tasked with communicating the alcohol policy to students. Isn’t this why we have a dean of students?

    No wonder college is so expensive.

  • September 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    “We’ve had lots of cases of students blacking out after having what they thought was ‘one or two’ drinks but were likely significantly more servings than they assumed.”

    I’m sorry, but this is just not possible. It wasn’t possible when it was claimed during the referendum, and it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Let’s assume that these students are inexperienced drinkers, since that is really the only situation where this claim would be plausible. Furthermore, let’s assume a 135 lb female student, as alcohol tolerance is higher in males and larger people. The UCSD Health Services states that the BAC threshold where blackouts begin to occur is .14-.17.

    At parties, drinks were served in 6 oz cups. Our hypothetical student arrives at the party around 11, completely sober. So our hypothetical party hosts make their drinks at a 2-1 mixer to alcohol ratio, three times over the recommended ratio (probably those malicious frat bros, right?). Our protagonist goes to the bar and slams back her two drinks, ingesting a whopping 4 oz of alcohol (2.6 standard drinks), for an immediate BAC of .071, half of the way to a blackout.

    Let’s now assume even more naughty party hosts, who mix up a batch of 1-1 mixers. We are now talking about 6oz of alcohol and a BAC of .118, still assuming that there is very little time between the drinks, and still well below the level where blackouts become possible. If Lilli Rodriguez wants to try and tell us that students are unknowingly drinking mixed drinks that are over 50% hard alcohol, I really don’t know what to say. This is not even to mention the fact that it would be ABSURDLY expensive to serve such drinks at large parties. Even in the 2-1 scenario, we’re looking at 60 ml of alcohol per drink, 25 drinks per handle. Most parties have ~6-8 handles, and would therefore only be able to serve 150-200 drinks before they would have to increase their costs. Our hypothetical student probably wouldn’t even be able to get her second drink before the party ran dry.

    You know who actually does blackout at parties on this campus? The people who take five or six shots in their dorm rooms before going out.

  • March 13, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    This being about 2 years later, I wonder how all these implementations turned out.


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