With colleges under growing pressure from the federal government under Title IX to reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related student misbehavior, Dartmouth College recently announced that it would ban hard liquor on campus.
The sexual assaults, fraternity hazing, and hospitalizations that have rocked campuses around the nation have often involved extreme intoxication, like the case of the former Vanderbilt football players convicted of raping an unconscious woman, or that of a Stanford swimmer recently accused of rape.
Dartmouth isn’t the first school to ban hard alcohol — Bates and Bowdoin have similar rules — but it is the first Ivy League school to do so. Despite Dartmouth’s prominence as a member of the Ivy League, experts caution not to expect many institutions, if any, to follow its lead.
The changes are part of a collective push to end sexual violence on campus, as Dartmouth is one of 95 schools under federal investigation under Title IX for mishandling sexual assault cases. But it is unlikely that adoption of a hard liquor ban will be effective in curtailing sexual misconduct and may in fact be counterproductive by encouraging riskier student behavior like drunk driving.
Counterproductive outcomes often result when the federal government seeks to impose one-size-fits-all solutions to complex campus issues under the considerable threat of loss of federal funding. That enormous club has forced many colleges and universities, like Dartmouth, to adopt campus policies that will have questionable effect.
A common concern raised by opponents of the hard liquor ban is that students desiring hard liquor will still find ways to obtain it, but now under even more dangerous circumstances. For Dartmouth students in isolated Hanover, New Hampshire, there are few options for social activities and drinking other than the fraternities which are located on college property.
While fraternities at Dartmouth and elsewhere are certainly not totally safe environments, they do offer some benefits: large crowds increase the probability someone will notice and stop illicit or dangerous behavior, there are often “sober monitors” keeping watchful eyes over parties, and first responders and emergency services know these locations well.
Students still desiring hard liquor will inevitably find ways to obtain it, by going off campus, which could cause increased drunk driving, and drinking in smaller, private groups with no sober monitors.
Moreover, banning hard liquor on campus addresses only a small sliver of the problem of binge drinking. College students are generally beer drinkers: the “kegger,” tailgate beer parties, and frat parties regularly feature beer on tap… and lots of it. Some students drink wine on occasion. But only a relatively few drink spirits on a regular basis. So, Dartmouth’s new policy just nibbles at the edges of the problem. Simply put, it won’t stop binge drinking and could unintentionally result in even more hazardous student conduct.
No accurate statistics are available on what percentages of college students drink beer and wine, as opposed to hard liquor. But, the 2014 Princeton Review survey of schools with the most hard liquor drinkers reports that the top four in order were the University of Iowa, Syracuse University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Georgia. Conspicuously, Dartmouth didn’t even appear on that list.
There is a wonderful irony in Dartmouth’s misguided authoritarian venture into this collegiate version of prohibition. Dartmouth President Hanlon, who announced the hard liquor ban as a part of a new program dubbed “Moving Dartmouth Forward,” graduated from Dartmouth in 1977 where he was a member of the Alpha Delta fraternity. That legendary frat house is said to have inspired the 1978 hit-comedy comedy “National Lampoon’s Animal House.
Wonder if the Alpha Delts might seek to oust their brother from membership?
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