Dartmouth to ban hard alcohol, pledging process

Dartmouth College will ban hard liquor, end pledging at fraternities and sororities, and institute a mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention program at the beginning of next year. Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon announced the planned changes in a speech to the community last month.

Last spring, Dartmouth was thrust into the national spotlight after a number of student protests and allegations of hazing and violations of the Title IX and the Clery Act. Often raised in the explosion of media coverage was the strong presence of Greek life on Dartmouth’s campus. As of winter 2014, 51 percent of the college’s undergraduates were members of Greek organizations. Dartmouth’s fraternities in particular have an extensive history of hazing and alcohol abuse and have been the subject of numerous police raids and allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

Beginning next fall, “Dartmouth will take the lead among colleges and universities in eliminating hard alcohol on campus,” Hanlon wrote on the college website. The new policy will prohibit the possession or consumption of alcohol that is 30 proof or higher on campus by all individuals, including those over the legal drinking age, and by college-recognized organizations. The policy will also stipulate that the entire community refrain from serving hard alcohol at college-sponsored events.

Additionally, next fall, the college “will require all student organizations to eliminate the pledge or probationary periods during which members have a lesser status,” the president’s website clarified. “Moving forward, student organizations will be held to a much higher standard than they have been in the past,” Hanlon wrote.

A comprehensive and mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention and education program will begin next year as well, along with a first-responder training program for faculty and staff. The college will also create an online “Consent Manual” which aims to “reduce ambiguity about what is acceptable and what is not,” planned for publication by the end of this summer.

Swarthmore changed its own alcohol policy in late August. In an email to the community, Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Lili Rodriguez announced a number of changes to the policy, including a ban on hard alcohol at registered campus events as well as on drinking games and drinking paraphernalia.

Students were mainly concerned that the new policy would lead to higher instances of unsafe binge drinking at pregames, though the number of alcohol-related visits to Worth Health Center decreased from the spring of 2013 to the fall of 2014, as did the number of alcohol-related incidents to which Public Safety responded.

For the most part, the bans in Swarthmore’s new policy have not been strictly enforced — students have continued to consume hard alcohol and play drinking games — but the largest change has come in the shift in party culture on campus. As it is now much more difficult for clubs and organizations to fund alcohol at parties, the number of parties has decreased, and most alcohol-related social activity now takes place at Pub Nite or at the fraternities.

Dartmouth is one of just a handful of schools to ban hard alcohol completely, including Bowdoin College and Colby College. In news coverage, students at both Bowdoin and Colby in general seemed to agree that most students ignore the bans, much like at Swarthmore.

Dartmouth community members’ concerns about the new alcohol policy echoed those of Swarthmore students following the changes to the Swarthmore policy. Some at Dartmouth called the enforceability of the college’s ban on hard alcohol into question and wondered whether the ban would simply push drinking underground.

“The new policies will likely drive drinking off-campus and into private spaces and destroy what inclusivity there is in our social life and the progress the college has made in protecting students from harm when they drink in excess,” Dartmouth student Isaac Green wrote in a February opinion piece in The Dartmouth, the college’s daily student newspaper.

In an opinion piece in early February, Dartmouth sophomore Nicole Simineri pointed out that many women at the college tend to choose to drink liquor rather than beer or wine, meaning that the ban could disproportionately affect female students. Simineri also argued that the ban might create a greater imbalance in power dynamics between upperclassmen and underclassmen as well as an overall increase in social exclusivity.

Additionally, in a letter to the editor in late January, Professor of Sociology Douglas Goodman pointed out several studies that have shown that beer is more strongly correlated to binge drinking than hard alcohol.

The Dartmouth editorial board, meanwhile, raised concerns about the evidence justifying the ban, issues of transparency in how the college arrived at its decision, and possible outcomes of the new policy. In an editorial, the board stated their disappointment that Hanlon did not disclose or explicitly cite the research underlying the ban. The board noted that the presidential steering committee’s final report, which clarified and justified the new policy, cited just two sources in support of the hard alcohol ban, and did not reference the data which led to its conclusion.

“Not enough effort was made to make this policy transparent, and as a result, we are left wondering why it was chosen in the first place,” the editorial board wrote.

The board also argued that administrators were more concerned with appearing to take a tough stance on alcohol, rather than creating a strict policy that would ensure the safety of students.

“The hard alcohol ban and surrounding rhetoric indicate that administrators do not fully grasp what binge drinking looks like and why it is a problem,” the editorial board wrote. “An unhealthy culture of alcohol consumption will persist regardless of whether the alcohol comes from a liquor bottle or a can of beer.” The board urged Dartmouth to consider these issues when developing a plan for the implementation of its new policy.

The ban on hard liquor and pledging and the sexual violence prevention program are just a few of the many policy changes planned as part of “The Moving Dartmouth Forward Plan.” According to the Dartmouth president’s website, the changes are aimed at placing “Dartmouth at the forefront in creating higher expectations of college students while strengthening Dartmouth’s longstanding commitment to leadership in teaching and education.”

In the wake of Swarthmore’s own policy changes, students have raised similar concerns as those of Dartmouth community members about whether the new alcohol policy in fact addresses what some see as a problematic drinking culture. It remains to be seen whether Swarthmore’s policy will be more strictly enforced and if changes to campus party culture that have resulted from the new policy will continue. The coming months will also tell how the enforcement of Dartmouth’s new policies will play out, and whether Dartmouth’s bans on hard alcohol and pledging, and its sexual violence prevention and education program will set the stage for similar changes at colleges and universities across the nation.

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