THE PERNICIOUS effects of drinking have long been felt on America’s college campuses: in sexual assaults, in dangerous hazing practices and in deaths and injuries every year. For just as long, most university administrators have given only lip service to cracking down on practices that perversely have come to be seen as an accepted part of the college experience. Credit then goes to Dartmouth College for taking the lead in confronting the problem with an overhaul of campus policies that includes a ban on hard alcohol.
“The evidence is clear: Hard alcohol is posing a serious threat to the health and safety of our campus,” Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon said Thursday in a speech spelling out steps to change the culture of a school with a reputation for liquored-up partying. In addition to a prohibition (starting with the spring term in March) of the consumption or possession of alcohol that is 30 proof or higher , students will be required to undergo a four-year sexual violence prevention program, and a new, more inclusive system of residential communities will be established for the freshman class entering this fall. The school’s fraternities and sororities had already agreed to eliminate pledging; Mr. Hanlon made clear that if there is not lasting change, the Greek system itself could be eliminated.
The changes follow a nine-month study by a presidential steering committee formed in the wake of a series of incidents involving binge drinking. The committee, comprised of faculty, alumni and students, examined research showing that limiting access to alcohol reduces binge drinking, with higher risks associated with hard alcohol. Schools that have enacted campus-wide bans on hard alcohol, including Bates, Colby and Bowdoin colleges, have seen a reduction in the number of alcohol-related medical transports and other measures of high-risk drinking. The focus on hard liquor makes sense. Enforcement will be key; university officials said they plan to hire additional safety and security officers, train residential life staff and make other changes.
Dartmouth’s relative isolation in western New Hampshire, where students have few options to drink off-campus, may give the university an advantage over more urban schools in enforcing the new regime. It is, though, certainly worth the while of other colleges and universities to examine Dartmouth’s approach. Even if they don’t adopt each specific prescription, they need to be as serious-minded as Dartmouth in tackling this problem.