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Will a ‘17 Die This Fall?

Death By Alcohol3.jpgDespite the College’s horrible, horrible social scene (nobody likes it except most students), there has never been a case — to my knowledge — of fatal alcohol poisoning at Dartmouth. But we could be heading into new territory with the upcoming six-week ban on freshmen in fraternities.

What will the frosh do with their spare time, now that they can’t go to Frat Row? You know that Keystone Light won’t be in the picture, given the number of cans of that insipid liquid needed to achieve the desired effect, and the risk of carrying six-packs into the dorms without attracting the attention of newly vigilant UGA’s and the disdained Community Directors, not to mention S&S and HPo. Not so for cheap vodka and other poisons, long the choice of pre-gamers everywhere. From now on, for the first six weeks of the upcoming term, the pre-game will also be the game, with no upperclassmen around to encourage moderation by freshmen.

The Law of Unintended Consequences doesn’t just relate to government policies. In the effort to keep impressionable and vulnerable freshman out of the Greek houses, we might just be condemning them to a worse fate. They’ll be in their frosh-only dorms, left to their own devices, and you have to know that the race to the bottom of the bottle will be part of the picture. Too many over-programmed, studious kids go nuts when they first get to the College, and under the new policy they’ll now do so completely on their own.

Back in the day, all Dartmouth dorms housed students from all classes, and the upperclassmen kept an eye on the newbies, or at least told them to hold down the noise. Now rambunctious ‘shmen will be cooped up by themselves, with no place to go. The result won’t be pretty.

But once soused, what will they do? They don’t know the ropes of Good Sam. Will they call for help if it is really needed? Or will they want to avoid trouble at all costs, and decide that their new-found friend, the one who just had to show everyone how easy it is to handle the hard stuff, had better sleep it off, even though things don’t look so good right now?

Keep your fingers crossed that nothing bad happens in the first six weeks of fall term, but the new policy certainly increases the odds that it will.

Addendum: The parent of an incoming freshman writes in:

My son predicted same outcome thing last week with the exact same logic. The new policy will force the alcohol consumption (dominated by hard liquor) among new freshmen underground, away from potential life-saving eyes.

Even when we’re wrong (these deaths are still rare), it won’t validate this new policy. This need for the administration to show action to address binge drinking reminds me of the line, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” They need to show that they’re “doing something,” and in taking these actions, they’re actually making the environment less safe than it is now.

Addendum: However, an alumnus who was a freshman back in 2000 has a different take:

Read your post on the potential consequences of this fall’s ban on freshmen in fraternities during “wet” events fall term, and it got me thinking about my own freshman fall, and a similar ban that was in place then. Has so much really changed since the fall of 2000 that a fatal case of alcohol poisoning in this environment is so much more likely now than it was then?

Also, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that this ban means that freshmen won’t be drinking in Greek houses this fall. If my memories of the fall 2000 ban are any indication, frats will invite those freshmen they deem rush targets (and/or dating/hookup interests) to the house. There will also undoubtedly be dry events hosted at the houses that are immediately followed by pong in the basement without the freshmen being kicked out (a capella performances come to mind as an example). From the frat perspective, they get to have their cake and eat it too: by using the ban to exercise control over which freshmen get to drink at the house, the frats get to use their alcohol to serve their own purposes (rush, romantic interests) while limiting exposure to trouble from random freshmen who don’t know their limits. As for what happens in the dorms, I was dry until my 22nd birthday, so I can’t really speak to that from personal experience, but I would once again ask whether so much has changed in 13 years that a fatal alcohol poisoning case is much more likely now.

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