Alcohol report advises changes

From building a new Old Campus social space to banning grain alcohol at campus parties, the recommendations of Yale’s Committee on Alcohol Policy address nearly every aspect of drinking on campus.

The committee’s recommendations, which will be publicly released today, focus on promoting alternative social events, the freshman social experience, and education and counseling, while the proposed additions to campus regulations are relatively minor. Committee members said they left intact the University’s traditional emphasis on safety over punishment as they sought to change a campus environment that they said sometimes promotes excessive drinking.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who chaired the committee, said members found that the safety-first policy works to encourage students to seek medical attention when necessary.

“It’s nothing new, but we think it’s one of the most important things in the report,” Salovey said.

Committee members — officials from University Health Services, residential college masters and deans, other administrators, faculty members, and two students — said the report’s primary objective was to establish recommendations that would change students’ attitudes toward excessive drinking. Salovey said current students often have a “celebratory” attitude toward drinking that actually has health risks.

One of the report’s major aspects was a proposal for new nonalcoholic late-night social activities. The report advanced several suggestions, including late-night athletics and dance classes, a coffee shop with live music and a new movie theater on campus.

“There are all kinds of reasons that people don’t drink, and we want to make sure that people like that can still be on the campus and have a good time,” Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said.

Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld, a member of the committee, said he thinks nonalcoholic events can attract students across Yale College, as they have in Davenport. He said his college’s first trip to Criterion Cinemas, which offered subsidized tickets, drew 70 to 80 students on a Friday night last month.

“If given the option, students will embrace it,” committee member Chris Connelly ’06 said. “It just has to be interesting and something they want to do.”

The report also suggested that traditional Yale events like Bulldog Days and Camp Yale be modified to take the emphasis off alcohol use. Schottenfeld said he has spoken to several admitted students who were so turned off by the amount of drinking during Bulldog Days that they decided not to come to the University.

“Any time that people think that they can’t have a good time without drinking themselves silly, you have to know that there is something wrong,” Trachtenberg said.

Several of the committee’s recommendations specifically targeted freshmen. Freshman year is the time when students are most likely to develop harmful patterns of alcohol use, said Linda Degutis, a School of Medicine professor who researches campus alcohol policy. Salovey said students’ drinking habits seem to become less risky as they approach legal drinking age, while freshmen often engage in the most dangerous behavior.

The group suggested that a new social space be built on Old Campus for late-night gatherings, since upperclassmen already have similar spaces within their residential colleges. New resident fellows similar to those in each of the colleges should be housed in apartments on Old Campus, the report said. The fellows would not police freshman parties, Degutis said, but they would be available to advise freshmen and to spot drinking problems early.

The report also addressed concerns about unsafe drinking among student organizations, such as fraternities, a cappella groups and athletic teams. Trachtenberg said student groups that throw off-campus parties are of particular concern, since students often walk home late at night. The report suggested that administrators work more closely with student groups to facilitate discussion about alcohol use and possibly create an interfraternity council.

“The idea was to open up discussion with these groups, sometimes with the administration but also within the groups,” committee member Renee Lopes ’06 said.

The report also proposed several amendments to the Undergraduate Regulations, although committee members noted that their primary aim was not the creation of new rules.

The proposed rules include a requirement that alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine be served at parties by a certified bartender, and that hosts stop serving alcohol one hour before a party is scheduled to end. The committee also recommended that grain alcohol be banned on campus, and clarified the existing rule that all alcoholic beverages are officially banned on Old Campus.

The report does not propose to increase enforcement of existing Undergraduate Regulations, Schottenfeld said. Compliance with rules would ideally happen informally, not through police or administrative intervention, he said.

“Those are the ways that I think those types of rules work out best, when they feel more like shared norms than they feel like something being imposed on us by nameless authority,” Schottenfeld said. “I think that’s quite respectful of the autonomy of students.”

The committee also recommended that the University implement new educational programs detailing the risks of alcohol use for masters, deans, freshman counselors and students. Committee member William Corbin, a psychology professor who studies college student drinking, said he thinks students often have misconceptions about how much their peers drink, which may encourage excessive drinking.

Although students are not disciplined for alcohol consumption if they seek help from University Health Services or Yale-New Haven Hospital, the committee recommended that students who are taken to the hospital be required to receive counseling at UHS. The same requirement would be extended to students who come before the Executive Committee for alcohol-related violations.

Degutis said the committee found that the biggest problem among undergraduates nationwide and at Yale was heavy episodic drinking — also called binge drinking — and not necessarily consumption throughout the week. Heavy episodic drinks is defined as four drinks in a night for a woman and five in a night for a man.

Corbin said the committee did not focus on the practicalities of implementing some of their proposals, but rather hoped to start a dialogue on campus about how to change student attitudes toward alcohol use. Salovey said the Dean’s Office and the President’s Office will work together to supervise progress on the recommendations, but offices across the University will be involved.

Schottenfeld said committee members have already had a productive discussion with Levin about the report. While some recommendations will require funds to be allocated in the University budget, educational initiatives can begin immediately, Schottenfeld said.

“I think we’re going to move ahead on those types of recommendations pretty readily,” he said. “If it works well, we’ve created an ongoing discussion on how we are doing around this particular issue.”

Two freshmen drink in their Old Campus room on Thursday. A University committee is releasing its recommendations today on alcohol use by students.
Andrew Mangino
Two freshmen drink in their Old Campus room on Thursday. A University committee is releasing its recommendations today on alcohol use by students.

Comments