Blame it on the alcohol?

High ground

In the wake of several embarrassing incidents involving intoxicated students, Dartmouth College has announced plans to enact a hard liquor ban on its campus in addition to the implementation of a mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention program.

Dartmouth’s actions represent a relatively extreme response to a problem that spans colleges and universities throughout the United States. President Phil Hanlon has a clear intention: to foster a safer and healthier environment for students. While the intentions of the faculty are undoubtedly noble, I question the wisdom of the hard alcohol ban.

The primary reason for banning hard liquor is to end high-risk behavior from students. The link between alcohol and sexual assault on campus is relatively clear. A number of peer-reviewed journal articles have noted that on average at least 50 percent of college sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use, not counting those that go unreported. What is not clear is whether that link is correlational or causal. When considering it as causal, one might cite how heavy drinking interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and adversely affects mood and behavior and impairs judgment. It is not uncommon for perpetrators of rape to claim that excessive alcohol consumption reduced their inhibitions and blurred their ability to recognize consent. Hanlon used those facts to justify the ban.

Will the policy be successful? Well, one must consider other parts of the policy besides the ban. One of the commendable consequences of the sexual violence education program that is being implemented at the same time as the hard alcohol ban is that it encourages dialogue, publicizing and raising awareness of the important issue of sexual assault on campus. Ignoring the problem of rape and sexual assault on college campuses has undoubtedly been harmful. Teaching about the issue and spreading awareness will dispel misconceptions about rape and hopefully create an environment of personal responsibility and control though societal pressures and conventions. The solution lies in education and changing mentalities. I am fairly certain that sexual assaults will decline at Dartmouth. However, the decrease will be in response to identifying and teaching about the issue, not the hard alcohol ban.

Hopefully, that reduction will not be used to advocate banning hard liquor on other campuses. The problem of sexual assault is deeper than binge drinking or wild parties. Rape has been the focus of numerous studies and surveys attempting to answer the question of why men rape. The answer is complex. Sexual assault is not the result of reckless drinking, just because the first sometimes follows the second. Research has indicated that the horrible act has roots in intensely personal issues such as animalistic urges, brooding insecurities and the intoxicating power trip that can accompany control.

Others have called attention to a societal component as well, dealing with how society views and depicts sex, violence and women. A ban on hard liquor simply does not address the heart of the issue. It instead restricts liberty and treats students as too untrustworthy to partake in a privilege that otherwise would be protected by the 21-and-over law. There is such a thing as drinking responsibly, and exposure to alcohol and social drinking are very real parts of life. Shocking, I know. I myself enjoy a drink from time to time; it helps me unwind. A huge concern I have with the policy is the enforcement. A strict no-tolerance policy means the administration will have to come down hard on those who break the rules—otherwise students will continue to covertly drink. Someone not unlike you or I may be reprimanded or expelled for acting without any malice whatsoever.

Whether or not you agree with recreational drinking is your own concern, but you cannot deny its popularity and prevalence. Collective punishment because of a few bad eggs not only glosses over the problem, it punishes those who otherwise enjoy the activity and drink responsibly. And perhaps more importantly, the across-the-board ban impinges on the freedom of students to make the choice whether or not to drink hard alcohol. It will be interesting to see how the new policy will affect life on campus and how the students will respond. As it stands, all I can say is I am glad I did not attend Dartmouth College, where students are not trusted to make a choice that millions of people make every day: to drink hard alcohol responsibly.

Chandler Holcomb is a Junior at Case Western Reserve University.