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Shall We Just Ban Alcohol on Campus?
A thoughtful observer of the College scene has read this space’s reporting on sexual assault. His reaction has been voiced by other correspondents in the past:
Joe, You noted in the first paragraph: “Yes, alcohol is always part of the equation …” [of sexual assault]
It is illegal in the U.S. (and in New Hampshire specifically) to consume alcohol prior to age 21. If Dartmouth College and its students honor this very simple, concrete law of the land, what effect would that have in reducing the incidence of sexual assault and rape on campus?
This illustrates why “the age of majority” makes sense, and deserves to be respected and enforced: Until you are 21, don’t drink at Dartmouth. If consuming alcohol as a minor in our campus community and under our institutional responsibility is more important to you than following that one simple law, then please go to school elsewhere. As an Ivy League student, plenty of other places will take you.
What to say about this position, an eminently logical one? Alcohol does have myriad negative effects on life at Dartmouth, and if the penalty for consuming it were expulsion, drinking would probably end at the College. Shall we bring back Prohibition?
To start, we should note that only a severe penalty like the expulsion of students could work to rein in student drinking. In the past decade, Jim Wright’s administration rang up hundreds of students on College discipline for underage consumption, and now-retired Hanover Chief of Police Nick Giaccone’s force arrested many hundreds more. Keystone Cop scenes of officers chasing Keystone-consuming students through the bushes played out over and over again on campus. To no effect at all, of course, except to give students disciplinary or criminal records that impeded their efforts to be accepted at grad schools.
We should also be cognizant of the fact that excessive student drinking has been decried in virtually every society from Ancient Greece (Plato’s Symposium means “Drinking Party”) to the present day, and certainly so at Dartmouth ever since Eleazar Wheelock supposedly arrived in Hanover with a barrel of five hundred gallons of New England rum. In 1772, student drinking was such that Wheelock wrote to John Sargent, who ran the Norwich-Hanover ferry (and a tavern, too),
I charitably hope …yt yo will henceforth Sell no Rum nor any Spirits to any Studt … belonging to ys College or School or to any Cook, Servt or Laborer … without a Written order undr my hand or one of ye Tutors-& pray sir, be so good as to signify to me by a Line …your complyce with my Desire …
The imprecation didn’t work then, and it has not done so since. And frankly, as a society, I don’t think we much care. In some unspoken way, we accept that students on campus drink, though via our weak laws we tut-tut about the practice. Perhaps alcoholic excesses are our own form of Rumspringa, the period of time when Amish youth are allowed to depart from the strict norms of their faith, prior to taking vows to lead a restrained and observant life. In addition to working hard in Hanover, students have a chance to purge themselves of wild feelings, doing so in the knowledge that after Commencement the hard work of a responsible life begins.
I can’t come up with a better explanation than that one for an unstated tolerance that goes back centuries. Perhaps my correspondent is inspired by Utopian sentiments, and he is willing to harshly enforce them? Not me. A conservative approach would be to accept the world as it is, and have the serenity to accept what cannot be changed — while scolding the students for their naughty, naughty behavior.
Addendum: The element left out of the above argument is the new-found abuse of alcohol by women students, with obviously pernicious effects. Responding to that development might change the debate.
Addendum: A reader writes in:
There is one important consideration you omit. By turning a blind eye to underage drinking, we send the message that attendance at an elite institution allows you to selectively obey the law. It is at least worth asking to what extent the proliferation of insider trading and other lawbreaking in the financial world has been nourished by the attitude that the privileged are somehow above the law.
Addendum: As does a wit:
The problem is that the culture of drinking got established when there were different sociological facts than exist today, i.e., there are now women at Dartmouth. The solution is that all women should be required to take a daily dose of Antabuse. The assault problem is thereby mostly solved.
Addendum: And a veteran of the social wars:
Here is a question that I think begs an answer at Dartmouth and everywhere else: What is the driving force behind large numbers of today’s college students routinely drinking themselves into oblivion? What are they running from? What cultural forces are in play? I speak as someone who has certainly imbibed my fair share of cocktails through the years — but I simply do not understand what is fun about throwing up, passing out, making a fool of yourself and awakening with no memory of the night before. Have even heard that it is not unusual for some of these kids to wet their beds after passing out. Whaaaat? To me, the larger question is not about the relevant legalities or choosing to drink vs. choosing to abstain — my question is: Why the increase in continuous excessive drinking? In my day, this was a one or two time event — i.e. a learning experience — something that you never wanted to repeat.
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own interviews, a review of…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…