Prompted by growing awareness of binge drinking on campus and the debate over alcohol at The Game this year, Yale President Richard Levin will likely convene a committee this spring to review the University’s current alcohol policy, officials said.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he believes the committee would be charged with the responsibility of comparing Yale’s current alcohol policy with those of other universities, evaluating peer institutions’ success in protecting student health and safety. Stressing the need for further empirical research, Salovey said he thinks the committee — which would include students, administrators and faculty — would examine surveys and research projects to determining whether Yale’s policy needs to be amended.
“I think we should always be asking ourselves, with something as important as our students’ health and safety, ‘Are we doing everything we can to protect our students’ health and safety?'” Salovey said, adding that this question does not assume that there is “something wrong” with Yale’s current policy.
According to University policy, any service of alcoholic beverages, whether organized or private, must be in compliance with the laws of Connecticut and Yale College regulations, which forbid the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages to individuals under the age of 21. Students who violate this policy may face disciplinary action, either by the master and dean of a residential college or by the Yale College Executive Committee.
But students and University personnel alike acknowledge that the policy is seldom enforced. Although University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said underage intoxicated students are frequently taken to UHS, they are not subject to disciplinary action. Only severe cases of intoxication, leading to hospital admission, would be brought to the attention of the residential college master or dean, he said.
“Their residential college dean is informed, but not of their clinical status,” Genecin said.
All University policy is subject to periodic review, and alcohol policy, which has not been reviewed for some time, is due for reconsideration, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said. But the review is particularly timely given a recent rise in excessive drinking, she said.
“It has come to our attention that there is a lot of very irresponsible drinking on campus,” Trachtenberg said.
While Silliman College freshman counselor Susan Chan ’05 said she feels excessive drinking is not any worse this year than it has been in the past few years, Jonathan Edwards counselor Tomas Garcia ’05 said he always hears at monthly counselor meetings about freshmen who have been taken to UHS for alcohol-related illness.
Among administrators, opinion varies about the effectiveness of Yale’s policy, Salovey said. While some would prefer a more stringent policy, Salovey said he thinks the University should focus instead on examining the social life at Yale.
“What do we do to create a culture on campus that discourages binge-drinking,” Salovey said. “Do we make sure it’s possible to have fun at Yale without alcohol?”
Genecin said although he thinks solving the problem of excessive drinking on college campuses is a complex one, increasing the presence of responsible adults in residential spaces and increasing the openness of dialogue about alcohol consumption are options the University could pursue.
“We deal with a culture in which it’s very difficult to have a discussion about responsible drinking, because drinking under the age of 21 is illegal,” Genecin said. “You can’t arrange a way for students to have reasonable, moderate access to alcohol.”
Yale College Council president Andrew Cedar ’06 said he discussed alcohol policy with students at other universities at the Ivy League Student Government Conference last year. Other schools in the Ivy League think Yale’s alcohol policy is ideal, Cedar said, and want to urge their own administrations to follow suit.
“Ours was sort of the envy of everyone else’s,” Cedar said. “We seem to be having the most progressive and responsible policy in terms of making sure that the primary concern is safety as opposed to being punitive.”
At other Ivy League schools, Cedar said, students are discouraged from seeking help by the threat of being punished for underage drinking. Although he praised Yale’s current policy, Cedar said he did not disagree with the idea of forming a committee to review it.
“You want to make sure you have the best policy possible,” Cedar said. “A review is never a bad thing.”