"Blame it on the alcohol, Dartmouth says"

University's ban on hard liquor dramatic but insufficient response to alcohol-related violence and injuries


As an Ivy League college, Dartmouth has long maintained a reputation for academic excellence and top-tier students. But after finding itself under fire for mishandling sexual assault complaints and turning a blind eye to hazing, academic excellence is no longer the cornerstone of the school’s image.

Like many universities across the nation, Dartmouth is now unable to ignore the prevalence of sexual assaults, hazing and risky, often alcohol-induced behaviors on campuses.

So in response, Dartmouth is locking the liquor cabinets and threatening to shut the doors on fraternities.

When the spring term begins at Dartmouth, students will have to say farewell to Jack Daniel’s and Captain Morgan and throw out their bottles of Svedka and Bacardi, as all liquor that is more than 15 percent alcohol will be banned.

It’s a sad truth that reports of sexual assaults, violent hazing and hospitalizations stemming from binge drinking on college campuses are no longer shocking news. Arguably, the news of Dartmouth’s response to the problem comes as more of a surprise.

Although the frequency of these crimes and injuries may have desensitized the public to the headlines, it remains a pressing – and seemingly unsolvable – problem for many universities. While some colleges, including elite schools like Harvard and the University of Chicago, have come under fire for mishandling sexual assault investigations and allowing hazing to go unchecked, Dartmouth is turning to preventive measures.

But this move isn’t simply preemptive.

Last spring, when the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges under investigation for improperly addressing sexual assault and harassment complaints, Dartmouth was one of the schools named. A recent tell-all from a former Dartmouth student detailing extreme hazing rituals further embarrassed the university.

So thanks to an unwanted and unpleasant media spotlight, Dartmouth is taking extreme – and largely untested – measures to address the problem. The university’s commitment to reforming the campus culture is admirable, as is their willingness to upset its students, especially those involved with Dartmouth’s extensive and deeply engrained Greek life traditions.

But the effectiveness of these measures is far from guaranteed.

On college campuses, where the majority of students tend to be under 21, consuming alcohol of any kind is technically disallowed, but such policies clearly do little to restrict students from drinking.

Enforcement will have to be intense, and penalties even more so, if Dartmouth officials expect students to take the ban seriously.

The university acknowledged that policing private drinking would be a challenge – shutting down parties is doable but cracking down on pregaming poses a far greater logistical difficulty.

And policing alcohol consumption runs the risk of encouraging students to resort to extreme measures to consume hard alcohol – drinking in secret, driving off-campus or simply consuming liquor as quickly as possible before heading out to a party.

Obviously, these aren’t the drinking habits university students should be developing.

Banning hard alcohol in response to student misconduct problematically shifts the blame from the individuals involved to the substance they consumed.

Although this ban addresses the dangers of binge drinking directly, issues of sexual assault and hazing are a result of behavior and choices made by students, and Dartmouth needs to acknowledge this.

Keeping students sober, or slightly less intoxicated, is a good first step. But keeping students educated, empathetic and aware would be even better.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com