Enforcement of alcohol rules varies widely

It was 3:30 a.m. on Parents’ Weekend at Barnard College, and an inebriated undergraduate from Columbia University had decided the moment was ripe to serenade a certain Barnard female. The student took his lady friend onto the quad, where he began to belt “La Donna e Mobile” into the autumn air. All was proceeding well for Columbia’s young Casanova until one of Barnard’s resident assistants emerged and proceeded to march the two back indoors. The Columbia student was not punished, but the RA forced the Barnard student to endure a brief stint in Alcoholics Anonymous.

This story, related by Columbia Vice President for Campus Life Marc Aspis, is just one entry in the canon of student tales of underage drinking and run-ins with authorities. The Barnard incident illustrates one end of the spectrum: a case where underage drinking landed a student in AA meetings. On the other end is the night last fall when Alessandro Presti ’07 and his friends walked by the Yale Police station holding 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor. When Presti stumbled past an officer on patrol, the policeman simply nodded at the drunken students and kept walking.

The alcohol policies printed in the handbooks of each Ivy League university are essentially the same: underage drinking is prohibited by law and a student will face administrative punishment if he or she is caught intoxicated before turning 21 or serving alcohol to someone under 21. Yale is no exception — the gist of its alcohol policy is compliance with Connecticut state law. But even though on paper all the Ivies have similar rules, the enforcement of these rules varies significantly from campus to campus.

Yale announced last week that University President Richard Levin would likely convene a committee this spring to review Yale’s current alcohol policy. Prompted by a growing awareness of binge drinking on campus and the debate over alcohol policies leading up to the Harvard-Yale football game last fall, Levin is poised to appoint the committee to evaluate peer institutions’ success in protecting student health and safety.

“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?'” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said last week, adding that this question does not assume that there is “something wrong” with Yale’s current policy.

Of Yale’s peer institutions, Dartmouth College has perhaps the strictest policy. In addition to a long list of prohibited “paraphernalia” associated with alcohol and locations on campus at which alcohol cannot be served, Dartmouth’s administration has outlined a system of strikes and punishments ranging from official reprimands to fines and “mandatory education sessions.”

Julia Hildreth, a senior and president of Dartmouth’s Student Assembly, said the punitive nature of the college’s policy can sometimes deter students from seeking medical attention in cases of extreme intoxication. Dartmouth officially has a “Good Samaritan policy” which tells students they will not get in trouble for seeking medical help, but Hildreth said amnesty is not always assured.

“In actuality it’s up to the dean if they want to grant that or not,” Hildreth said. “It’s a big detriment to students trying to get help.”

Indeed, Dartmouth’s handbook says its policy “does not excuse or protect those individuals or organizations whose behavior flagrantly or repeatedly violates the College alcohol policy … names of intoxicated students will be recorded by Safety and Security to enable any follow-up that may be deemed necessary to ensure the students’ well being.”

At Brown, authorities take a more lax approach than at Dartmouth. Underage students do not run the risk of incurring punishment if they seek medical help when intoxicated, Brown freshman Kyle Evans said. Though there is no mention of a specific amnesty policy in the “Student Rights and Responsibilities” section of Brown’s Web site, Evans said students know they can call Brown’s Emergency Medical Services system — a division of Brown University Health Services that is available to students 24 hours a day — without fear of repercussions.

“The university does what it can with the EMS program to ensure that student safety is a priority,” Evans said.

At a conference of Ivy League student government leaders last November, the models at Brown and Yale were widely praised for putting students’ health first, said Todd Golden, vice president of the Dartmouth Student Assembly.

With alcohol policies ranging from what Evans described as Brown’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to Dartmouth’s carefully delineated system of punishments, the enforcement of underage drinking varies widely among America’s top universities. But while Brown and Dartmouth have similar numbers of students being cited for public drunkenness, the number of students arrested for the infraction vary widely.

At Dartmouth during the past academic year, some 261 students were cited for public intoxication, of which 85 received violations for underage alcohol possession, according to a report of Dartmouth’s Office of Undergraduate Judicial Affairs. In addition, four students were suspended for driving under the influence and one intoxicated student set fire to a residential stairwell, resulting in the student’s expulsion. Brown’s 2004 campus police report noted 204 on-campus disciplinary referrals for alcohol-related incidents but no student arrests.

Like at Yale and Brown, students at Columbia and Cornell are guaranteed amnesty for seeking medical attention. But students at Columbia and Cornell said other areas of alcohol policy are more strict than at Yale and Brown. Aspis said Columbia student organizations are required to comply with a long list of regulations and specifications in order to host parties.

“They double card; there needs to be an alcohol event manager and a proctor as well,” Aspis said. “The event manager and the proctor both have to undergo special training.”

Kaori Ito, a sophomore at Cornell, also said her sorority has to comply with “strict” rules when it serves alcohol at events. At Cornell, students have to worry about getting in trouble with their RAs for underage drinking, Ito said.

“I was at a party at a frat house and this girl got really drunk,” Ito said. “The brothers were concerned about taking her home and the RA finding her in that state.”

A growing awareness of binge drinking has prompted President Richard Levin to review the current alcohol policy.
Michael Blank
A growing awareness of binge drinking has prompted President Richard Levin to review the current alcohol policy.

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