How one Ivy League college is combating student alcohol abuse
An extraordinary self-reexamination has been going on here at the isolated snow-covered campus of Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school long known for its tradition of ''working hard and playing hard.''Skip to next paragraph
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The 200-year-old institution, located just across the Connecticut River from Vermont, has become a case study of how to tackle the sometimes interrelated problems of fraternity misbehavior and alcohol abuse.
Dartmouth's public airing of its own dirty linen - through a variety of well-publicized campus programs - has reemphasized the popular stereotype of the college as a ''drinking'' and ''partying'' school. But the willingness of Dartmouth administrators to face the problem head on has also won praise.
The Dartmouth campaign began with the formation of an Alcohol Concerns Committee in 1978, about the time alcohol staged a comeback on college campuses.
Since then, public forums involving administrators, faculty, and students have aimed to build consciousness about alcohol abuse. And beginning in March, under an agreement with the state of New Hampshire, Dartmouth's Medical School will offer special weekend education and assessment programs to people convicted of drunken driving.
The program will be one of 11 state-approved programs which drunken drivers may attend to get their drivers' licenses back. Although the weekend program does not directly pertain to student alcohol abuse, it is hoped it will provide broader insights useful for combating alcohol abuse.
Teachers, administrators, and students in the fishbowl that is Dartmouth give differing opinions on the seriousness of the alcohol-abuse problem. They also disagree over whether Dartmouth's problem is any different from that encountered at other schools, and over why Dartmouth's name is so often associated with alcohol abuse. Two themes frequently emerge.
Studying in a comfortable lounge chair in Collis Center (the student center), Debbie Schupack, a student of English literature and religion, puts it this way:
''There is here a kind of uneasy coexistence between the two strong campus traditions of intellectual excellence and fraternity life style. The tension between these two traditions makes alcohol abuse get attention here.''
The other theme was stated by Associate Dean Marilyn Baldwin at an alcohol-abuse forum, also at Collis Center, on Jan. 24:
''The vast majority of discipline cases we see are alcohol-related,'' she stated, adding that alcohol abuse is often related to fraternities. ''Some hoped that admission of women (in fall 1972) would be a civilizing influence. But the impact of women is questionable,'' she maintained.
Perhaps the most popular explanation of the Dartmouth problem - put forth by students, teachers, and counselors both within and without Dartmouth - goes something like this:
Dartmouth's geographical isolation means students have few alternatives for social life. This tends to strengthen the importance of fraternities as a social center where alcohol plays a dominant role. As fraternities become an entrenched tradition, the students and the alumni support a fraternity-oriented social life that tends to promote continuing alcohol abuse.
A corollary is that abuses are noticed more at Dartmouth than at other schools because in tiny Hanover (pop. 5,520 not including students) misdeeds by any of the college's 3,600 students stand out more than they would in a larger city.
Still another view is that the media focus on abuses here precisely because the college and the alumni have loudly proclaimed Ivy-League standards of intellect and conduct.
''Abuses stand out here because of our pretensions. It makes it look as though we have feet of clay,'' notes one former dean, who says such abuses draw scant attention many state universities.