On Thursday, Jan. 29, Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon released a report from a committee that he commissioned last April to provide suggestions for making campus safer and more inclusive. This plan is entitled “Moving Dartmouth Forward.” Among the many proposed reforms, Dartmouth will ban hard alcohol. Dartmouth defines this as drinks at 30 proof or higher. Even students of legal drinking age will be punished for the possession or consumption of hard alcohol. Thus, all manner of vodka, tequila, rum, gin, bourbon, and whiskey are illegal for Dartmouth students. This is a step in the wrong direction.
Have we learned nothing from prohibition? When America banned all forms of alcohol, binge drinking increased. As alcohol was illegal, Americans had to consume as much as possible before the police arrived, confiscated all of it, and issued penalties. Prohibition did decrease the per capita consumption of liquor, but increased the same behavior it was intended to curb: reckless and dangerous drinking.
The same will be true for Dartmouth and its hard alcohol ban. The consumption of hard alcohol will be driven further underground than it already is. Now, in addition to underage drinkers, students of legal drinking age will also be driven away from the supervision of the public. For example, when drinking socially at a public place, say at a bar or a restaurant, more alcohol will likely not be given to an intoxicated patron. Thus, the public has intervened and stopped this patron’s dangerous drinking. I believe that the public is the best mechanism to enforce safer drinking habits. The further drinking is away from the public, the more dangerous it becomes. Thus, by forcing students of legal drinking age underground, hard alcohol consumption will increase and binge drinking will increase. This is because dorm rooms and fraternity basements are not public spaces with monitored drinking, which results in the very behaviors this policy seeks to curb.
Hanlon, however, believes this will promote a safer campus environment. This argument follows the principle of banning firearms on college campuses. Firearms can be dangerous. Therefore, banning them makes campus safer. Consuming too much hard alcohol can be dangerous. Thus, it follows that banning hard alcohol, like banning firearms, will make the campus safer. By banning hard alcohol, binge drinking would be reduced, as it is difficult to get as drunk off of beer in the same period of time it would take to do rapid-fire shots.
However, hard alcohol is not the problem. The problem is the general prohibition on alcohol for those under 21. This is the highest legal drinking age in the world. When someone turns 18, ze can vote, smoke tobacco, and join the armed forces. You can die for your country before legally drinking a beer.
With such a prohibitively high drinking age, it’s no wonder that underage drinking is such a “problem.” In towns where there is relatively little happening overall—such as Hanover, NH, my hometown and the home of Dartmouth College—police departments allocate many resources fighting underage drinking. With the police prioritizing underage drinking, underage students are discouraged from drinking responsibly. And make no mistake: On college campuses nearly anywhere, there will be underage students who drink alcohol. Thus, a high drinking age encourages binge drinking of all types of alcohol for all underage drinkers. A high drinking age has the same effect on the underage drinking population as prohibition in the ’20s did on the entire population.
Dartmouth’s “solution” to binge drinking on campus will only exacerbate the problem. By banning hard alcohol for all students, on top of alcohol being illegal for anyone under 21, Dartmouth will implicitly encourage binge drinking. Banning hard alcohol increases the forbidden fruit effect. The allure of drinking will increase as it is seen as dangerous, and this ban gives another venue for young people to say “fuck the establishment.”
Dartmouth, as well as other colleges and universities, should follow the example of Stanford. Stanford has in place an “open-door” policy. Stanford’s official policy is that it does not support breaking drinking laws, and that Stanford students are responsible for their own actions and their consequences. However, the unofficial policy is for students to drink in their rooms, doors open. Students don’t fear repercussions from RAs for drinking even though they are prohibited by law. Thus, binge drinking in dorms is decreased because students don’t feel the need to rush to drink what they have before it’s confiscated. Additionally, the unofficial policy accepts that students will drink, and so students are more likely to ask for help when a friend drinks too much if there will be no consequences (from either the school or the law) for drinking.
Dartmouth is truly trying to tackle this issue the wrong way. First, by banning hard alcohol, students of legal drinking age will be driven underground. Underage drinkers will be more likely to drink hard alcohol, as it has become even more illicit. Also, Dartmouth seems to be turning a blind eye to what is synonymous with its binge drinking reputation: the unofficial Dartmouth mascot, Keggy the Keg.
McCarthy is a member of the class of 2018.