Dartmouth College bans hard liquor: Can booze limits improve student safety?

As schools across the country look for ways to crack down on high-risk behavior on campus, one school famous for its party culture is taking steps to make campus safer for students.

Jim Cole/AP
Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon speaks to faculty and students about changes planned for the Ivy League school Thursday in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth College banned hard liquor on campus Thursday and said all students will have to take part in a sexual violence prevention program all four years they're enrolled at the Ivy League school.

Dartmouth College, a school with a notoriously rowdy and widespread Greek culture, is taking action to curb misconduct on the Hanover, N.H., campus by banning hard liquor.

On Thursday, school President Philip Hanlon announced that starting March 30, all students, regardless of age, will be prohibited from possessing hard alcohol on campus. The school’s Greek societies have also been warned that they need to improve their behavior or risk being banned.

The measures come at a time when school officials across the United States are considering ways to crack down on a culture of excessive partying found at many colleges. The White House says the behavior has led to an “epidemic” of sexual assault on school campuses.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries and 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Dartmouth’s plan, entitled Move Dartmouth Forward, is just one response to the party culture. Instead of banning fraternities, Dartmouth is experimenting with new rules to make the campus safer.

“In the majority of alcohol-induced medical transports, it is hard alcohol – rather than just beer or wine – that lands students on a hospital gurney,” Dr. Hanlon told students during a speech Thursday, The New York Times reports. Consequently, “hard alcohol will not be served at events open to the public, whether the event is sponsored by the college or by student organizations.”

The crackdown affects beverages that are 30 proof or higher, approximately the upper limit of most wine.

The decision came after months of deliberation over how to respond to a wave of student misbehavior that officials claim tarnished the school’s reputation and led to a 14 percent decrease in applications two years ago. During the past several years, there have been numerous accounts of sexual assault and hazing on Dartmouth’s campus.  

In 2012, Andrew Lohse, a Dartmouth student called national attention to these practices with an article in the student newspaper about his fraternity’s hazing rituals.

"I, my fellow pledges and all pledges since, have been implicitly encouraged to treat Dartmouth women with about the same respect with which we treated each other in our social spaces: none," Mr. Lohse wrote.

Hanlon assumed the helm of the college a year later after then-President Jim Yong Kim left to serve as president of the World Bank.

Hanlon's new plan envisions the creation of alternative spaces for social activities outside of fraternity and sorority houses, which have until now been the most popular locations for student socializing. Faculty members will take a more active role in residential life on campus and a code of conduct will be drafted for both individual students and Greek societies. Students will also be expected to participate in a four-year sexual violence prevention education program. The program will include a “consent manual” with “realistic scenarios and potential sanctions to reduce ambiguity about what is and what is not acceptable,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

“Colleges and universities across the country face the issues I’ve detailed today,” Hanlon said in his speech. “We are not alone in facing them. But we will take the lead in saying 'no more.’ ”

Dartmouth is not the first school to take such strong measures to address misconduct on campus. In Sept. 2014, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania banned hard alcohol, drinking games, and drinking paraphernalia from campus events.

In early January, the University of Virginia banned hard alcohol at fraternity parties after a now-discredited Rolling Stone article alleged that a gang rape had taken place in one of the school’s fraternity houses.

That same month, Brown University banned alcohol in fraternities and announced that a comprehensive review of its alcohol policy will be conducted as part of the school’s “intensified efforts to prevent and address sexual assault,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Dartmouth College is one among more than 50 elite US institutions that the Department of Education is investigating to verify whether their policies on sexual assault violate US laws requiring equal treatment for men and women in higher education, Reuters reported.

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