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SEMPer Novus (1/2)

The next bright new day of student alcohol and social regulation at the College approaches on January 14th, as promised by Dean Spears, other adminstrators and students who have been working together on policies to reduce alcohol abuse and sexual assault at the College. The latest incarnation of the much derided Social Event Management Procedures (SEMP) are on their way.

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As for the alcohol side of the coin, I remain disappointed. Right now there is very little bold thinking in addressing student alcohol abuse. The biggest changes to come out of the new SEMP? Two active kegs allowed instead of one! Three social-event-classification tiers instead of four — with brand new numerical classifications for attendance! And for everyone who was considering an attempt at unsafe drinking, your efforts will be thwarted by guaranteed Safety and Security walkthroughs (2+ walkthroughs during any Tails event or open party).

The truth of the matter is that any College official tasked with addressing the “drinking matter” should have a feel for the Gordian knot. Incremental changes to the last iteration of policy have not worked over the last decade.

On the one hand, an intransigent Hanover Police pushes the College to crack down on student drinking. There are the ever-present pressures of politics and image; for example, it’s no accident that the College has fought keg liberalization, and rules forbid the public display of pong tables. Ours will not be a College where students are known to have a good time!

On the other hand, students will either push back or move their drinking underground in response to harsh enforcement and onerous regulation.

In the past, Dartmouth has tried to ease its concerns of legality, liability, and image with regulations that looked weighty in print, but were easily sidestepped in practice. It’s a kind of regulatory capture that allows most students to tolerate onerous regulations… precisely because they aren’t enforced too harshly. Students know the drill: when the lights flicker in a basement, cups of beer disappear just in time for S&S to ensure that the party is in full compliance with the rule of law. This arrangement has proven useful in many ways, but less than ideal.

I am unconvinced that the administrators writing the new SEMP grasp this paradigm of social management. If policies are changed to be both more restrictive and if they are enforced, drinking will move underground. If the rules add more red-tape, the College will continue to burden students with administrative tasks and fail to produce any results. And if pure liberalization rules the day, the College may be seen as negligent in allowing students to make their own poor or unsightly decisions.

I believe there are bold strokes to be taken if we really want to slice the Gordian knot from a harm-reduction standpoint. The Good Sam Policy is the crown jewel of the College’s policy actions to date. As it stands, SEMP 2.0 won’t cut it. Stay posted for some of my own ideas in Part 2, and read the working draft of SEMP 2.0 for yourself.

Joe Asch’s Addendum: We cannot point out too often that the College’s alcohol “problem” is one of enforcement, not exceptional abuse. Alcohol over-consumption is a generalized student issue in America, but the manner in which schools and local police forces respond to it differs. According to the the federal government’s Clery Act statistics, in 2009 Dartmouth has 110 “Arrests On campus.” At Harvard, Brown, Penn and Columbia — hardly monastic institutions — there were no arrests at all, not a single one. Yale and Princeton has 10 arrests each, and Cornell had 20 on-campus arrests.

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