Peer institutions’ alcohol rules more lenient in practice than on paper

When the college introduced a new drug and alcohol policy at the beginning of the fall semester, the administration said that it instituted the changes after studying the alcohol policies of peer institutions. As a result, administrators banned hard alcohol at organized functions that exceed 30 persons, prohibited drinking games and introduced a medical amnesty policy.

In this first part of this series investigating alcohol policies at peer institutions, the Phoenix looked at the formal policies at other colleges. Part two examined both the policies and practices of Haverford. In this installment, the Phoenix looks at the practices and experiences of students at peer institutions.

While on paper many schools have tough policies, students said underage drinkers could easily access alcohol at events on-campus.

“Stanford has an extremely liberal alcohol policy. When I entered college as a freshman, we obviously had people come talk to us about alcohol — [but] never did anyone tell us not to drink,” wrote Alexa Andaya, a junior at Stanford. She explained the RAs always stressed their “open-door policy,” which means students leave their doors open when drinking, in case there is an incident.

Andaya feels that the primary concern of Stanford RAs is safety. As such, they try to be aware of students’ drinking habits.

The sentiment at many schools is similar.

Megan Sims, a freshman at Harvard University, said that freshmen will find alcohol if they seek it.

“The overall policy is good because it helps acclimate freshmen to college life and partying, especially those who weren’t drinkers before,” Sims wrote. She explained that the leniency of the policy allows students to experience drinking alcohol fairly easily.

Harvard’s policy does not specifically address underage drinking. “The university will take disciplinary action against violators, consistent with federal, state, and local laws,” is the most it says about those who choose to drink.

At Duke, alcohol is generally available, with variance across social spaces.

“It’s pretty easy for underclassmen to get alcohol (usually just beer) at parties that aren’t Greek, and even easier for girls to get into frat parties where there’s hard liquor,” wrote Katie Zhou, a first-year at Duke. Duke’s drug and alcohol policy states that “Except at events in a licensed facility providing a cash bar, no spirituous liquor or fortified wines may be served to undergraduates.”

Despite multiple accounts of underage students gaining access to alcohol at peer institutions, not all universities show such leniency. “The unlawful possession, use, or distribution of drugs will not be tolerated on premises owned or controlled by the University,” reads New York University’s alcohol policy on its website. The intolerance of violating this policy was witnessed firsthand by Michelle Kim, a freshman at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Kim explained that she invited a friend of hers who was a non-NYU student to her dorm room one night. The building security guard caught Kim’s friend with a bottle of wine in their bag. Kim was let off with a warning, but they were forced to empty the bottle of wine while an RA watched them.

In addition to the ambiguity regarding the access to alcohol by underage college students, how to purchase or pay for alcohol at many of Swarthmore’s peer institutions is unclear.

“Payment [for alcohol] is usually done by the host(s),” said Henry Litwhiler, a freshman at Columbia University, in an email. “I’m not aware of any places that do door fees. I’ve heard things about the university paying for alcohol for senior-only events, but they’re very careful not to pay for underage consumption.” He also noted that there are not a lot of ways in which university funding could be misspent.

“Student group spending has to be itemized, so it’s pretty difficult for university funds to go towards alcohol that way,” Litwhiler wrote.

University of Pennsylvania students face similar uncertainties regarding the funding of alcohol at events on-campus.

Carly O’Donnell, a freshman at UPenn, explained that when it comes to alcohol on campus, the amount that students have to pay varies, but at least at fraternities, alcohol is free for guests.

At Princeton and at Duke, students said that they seldom pay for their own alcohol.

“People who throw pregames are generally pretty generous, and the beer on the Street is free,” wrote Valerie Wilson, a freshman at Princeton. The Street is the colloquial term for Prospect Avenue, where all of Princeton’s eating clubs are located.

Many institutions, however, have policies similar to Swarthmore regarding the types of alcohol allowed at social events as well as the approved methods for distributing it. Amherst, UPenn, Princeton and Columbia all have language in their drug and alcohol policies that restrict the use of kegs or other “common sources” of alcohol at events. Swarthmore does not currently restrict the use of kegs but does prohibit the use of other “common sources” of alcohol, like punch bowls. Duke, UPenn, Amherst, and Princeton all also prohibit or limit the consumption of hard alcohol on their campuses. Unlike at Swarthmore, these bans are campus-wide.

Swarthmore’s policy regarding violations of the drug and alcohol policy becomes more severe with each successive infraction.  The first violation of the policy results in a warning and referral to the alcohol and drug counselor, at minimum. The second violation involves probation and a referral to an alcohol education program, and the third violation involves suspension, expulsion, and outside intervention by authorities. At several peer institutions, the repercussions for violating the drug and alcohol policy are unclear or absent from their stated policies.

“I believe if you drink and end up going to Yale Health, the worst that can happen is you have a chat with a dean,”  wrote Natalie Wyatt, a freshman at Yale, via email. “Yale takes a preventative, not prohibitive, stance on alcohol for the most part. With other drugs however, being caught can result in a disciplinary case and expulsion, though this rarely happens the first time.”

At Princeton, the consequences for minor violations of the alcohol policy begin with a warning, students said. Higher-risk violations have stronger sanctions, as do other drugs.

However, Jalisha Braxton, a junior at Princeton, feels that it is difficult for the University to enforce their policies.

“I’m not really sure what the real rules are because the unspoken rule is just ‘Don’t get caught by off-campus police,’” she said in an email.

Amherst’s alcohol policy is similar to Princeton’s. However, the extent of this enforcement also seems to mirror Braxton’s description, according to Dan Ahn, a freshman at Amherst.

“[Campus police] will walk into a party with underage drinking, and as long as you put down your drink, they won’t take any disciplinary action,” he wrote.

UPenn’s disciplinary actions range from warning to expulsion. Pratyusha Gupta, a junior at UPenn, has never heard of anyone getting into disciplinary problems because of alcohol.

“Overall, Penn knows that you ‘work hard, party hard’ and they respect that. But they make a lot of resources available to help you if you have any sort of problem,” she wrote.

In the drug and alcohol policies of Swarthmore and its peer institutions, the most frequently recurring policy is the presence of a medical amnesty policy regarding the consumption of alcohol or drugs. Yale, Princeton, Amherst, UPenn, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, New York University and Vassar all have policies in place that grant students immunity from disciplinary action if students seek medical attention related to the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol. This medical amnesty policy is widely praised for promoting students to seek medical attention without fear of disciplinary action if their safety is jeopardized.

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