Peer schools divide on drinking policies

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In the opening weeks of the school year, students have been adjusting to modified alcohol-related policies that the administration implemented this semester. Campus reactions have been mixed, as has enforcement of these new rules. According to an explanatory message to students from Lili Rodriguez, dean of diversity, inclusion and community development, much of the basis for the new policies was rooted in peer schools’ policies.

In this first part of a three-part series on alcohol and party policies across campuses, the Phoenix analyzes over a dozen comparable colleges to discover the similarities and differences in official policy-making. Part two will delve into the actual enforcement of these policies and what the drinking life is like at multiple schools.

Three specific changes were highlighted by Rodriguez in her school-wide email, sent on August 27: an amnesty policy for reporting students who are sick from drugs and alcohol, the prohibition of drinking games and paraphernalia and the prohibition of hard alcohol at official parties larger than 30 people.

Rodriguez’s email noted eight peer institutions that she said have banned hard liquor at registered parties: Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, Colgate, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Pomona, and Williams.

Contrary to Rodriguez’s email, however, not all the schools listed have banned hard alcohol. Dartmouth’s official student handbook does not have a flat ban on hard alcohol at registered parties. It is permitted at registered events with fewer than 150 attendees. A September 26 article in The Dartmouth, the school’s student newspaper, stated that their administration has not yet officially proposed banning hard liquor, and even stated that Swarthmore’s new rule could influence Dartmouth’s future policy — not the other way around.

Middlebury College’s official alcohol policy does not ban hard alcohol and does not reference it except to note that “consequences for possession of hard alcohol will normally be more severe” than those for beer. Williams College has disallowed hard liquor at most parties, but makes exceptions for several traditional events.

Banning hard liquor is not uncommon for institutions, though. Comparable schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University have implemented the policy. Other colleges have chosen not to develop full bans. Harvard University temporarily prohibited all hard liquor, but has now re-introduced it with strong regulations. Mixed drinks are allowed only at “formal” parties, and must be served by professional bartenders. Villanova University limits the amount of liquor that 21-and-over students may possess, and bans the possession of handles.

Swarthmore’s peer schools are relatively split on allowing drinking games and paraphernalia on campus. Drinking games such as beer pong and flip cup are cited as common causes of unsafe, rapid drinking. In her message to students, Rodriguez specifically mentioned funnels and pong tables, and noted that the administration’s goal was to prevent “students reaching dangerous levels of intoxication, quickly.”

Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, Colgate, Middlebury, Penn, Princeton and Villanova are examples of colleges that ban drinking games and paraphernalia. Most of these schools’ policies are unequivocal in their rejection of drinking games, and Swarthmore’s new rule is no exception. However, Rodriguez stated in an interview with the Daily Gazette that the policy will generally not be enforced at parties that are not in central spaces and are not disruptive, bringing into question just how enforceable these rules are on campus and at other schools.

Notable peers that tolerate drinking games include Bryn Mawr, Dartmouth, Haverford and Williams.

One new element of Swarthmore’s new alcohol policy, which may be the most impactful in promoting safety on campus, is the new alcohol and other drugs amnesty policy. Under the new rule, a student who finds that another student needs alcohol-related medical assistance can seek help without danger of repercussion for either student, assuming either student had violated a school alcohol policy. Otherwise known as a “Good Samaritan” policy, the amnesty policy is designed to prevent poor decision-making in order to avoid punishment.

According to the national organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which rates every college’s alcohol policy and recommends improvements, the existence of amnesty is an important aspect of alcohol safety, along with explicit sanctions and punishment systems. The college’s most recent rating, assigned prior to the establishment of the new amnesty policy, is a B- in some cases significantly higher than peer institutions’ ratings.

Bowdoin College, despite not having an amnesty policy, has seen a dramatic decrease in drinking-related medical incidents since banning hard liquor and drinking games in the 1990s. It received a C.

Haverford College has a D rating, the second-lowest level assigned by the SSDP. Bi-Co sister Bryn Mawr is only slightly better with a C. Haverford does not ban hard alcohol or drinking games and has no official Good Samaritan policy. Williams is also rated D, mainly due to its lack of amnesty policy and its ambiguous sanction process. Other schools, like Middlebury and Villanova, that do not offer amnesty, also have low grades.

Dartmouth does have an amnesty policy, earning it a B rating by the SSDP, but has few other restrictions on alcohol consumption. The school’s drinking culture has been consistently cited as out of control, described by its president, Philip J. Hanlon, as “dangerous” and “the rule and not the exception.”

There are colleges whose policies have earned high ratings. Amherst, Colgate, UPenn, Pomona and Princeton all have Swarthmore’s three new rules in place.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that this was the first of a two-part series. The series was later extended to three-parts.

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