Rosett: An alternative to alcohol

Like many students, I found last semester’s record number of incidents of alcohol poisoning more than a bit concerning. Yale’s administration has rightly recognized that the consequences are only magnified when students are too scared to get treatment for their friends who find themselves in a compromised state. The resulting policies, with their emphasis on amnesty over punishment, help make our campus a safer place.

As the article in Monday’s News made clear, however, these policies only go so far — the “harm reduction” approach is not enough. But as of yet the administration has been unable to figure out how to supplement their current policies, with Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 saying, “What else can we do, other than turning into a police state? That’s not the answer.” While I agree that harsh disciplinary measures are both undesirable and counterproductive, I think there are alternatives to our current policy.

Quite simply, Yale needs to present staying sober, be it for a night or for four years, as a viable option.

From the moment that students arrive for freshman orientation, the underlying assumption seems to be that every single one of them will drink each weekend. Notably absent from the Camp Yale events is any kind of encouragement to simply find other ways to spend your weekend nights. This is disappointing. Nobody at Yale would claim that simply telling students not to drink would be an effective method of ensuring safety, but by presenting staying sober as a reasonable choice, Yale could help combat the problems associated with excessive drinking.

Unfortunately, the lack of support for alcohol free alternatives extends past the end of Camp Yale. Residential colleges fund screws and events like Safety Dance that are either pre-gamed or, in the case of at least one college’s screw, have an open bar. Alcohol free events, by contrast, are virtually nonexistent.

Yale lags behind its Ivy League rivals in this respect. Grants from Harvard’s Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors allow groups of undergraduates to get funding for small alcohol-free events like crepe making parties; the Alcohol Initiative at Princeton provides funding that, among other things, allows their campus’ climbing wall to triple its staff and provide free food each Thursday night. These programs cost relatively little but still provide each university with a way to reduce the risks of drinking without resorting to harsh disciplinary measures. Furthermore, they give students more options on the nights that they choose not to drink. Since virtually every Yale student spends at least the occasional night sober, this could benefit teetotalers and imbibers alike.

Of course, Harvard and Princeton are not Yale, and perhaps a different solution would be more appropriate for our campus. But Yale’s administration has shown a remarkable lack of desire to confront both the public health and social problems created by their current policies. This indifference is best illustrated by the failure to effectively implement the recommendations of the panel that was convened in February 2005 specifically to address the issue of alcohol at Yale. A couple of the suggestions, like the ban on grain alcohol, have been implemented in a rather ineffective manner, and many were ignored. Probably the most visible of these was the suggestion that Yale hire an “alcohol director.” Yale started the search in April 2008, then announced that the search was being extended until September, and then said nothing about it for the rest of the year. In January 2009, the News reported that Yale had decided not to hire an alcohol director and instead would be forming a committee composed of students, administrators and faculty to address the issue. That committee was never actually formed.

For the significant number of students who would like for the university to at least consider providing alternatives to drinking, this delay has been disheartening; for our community at large, it has been dangerous.

I encourage Yale’s administration to follow through on its promise to create this committee and demonstrate its commitment to finding constructive solutions. We have options that are more effective and more desirable than either ignoring the problem or turning Yale into a police state, and it’s time that we explore them.

Max Rosett is a sophomore in Calhoun College.


  • A Muslim Yalie

    As a Muslim who doesn’t drink, I can perfectly relate to your frustration. Thank you for articulating a common thought.

  • SeniorDrunkard

    A climbing wall? Really? A CLIMBING WALL is going to provide viable options for a night out that do not involve drinking? I’m all for climbing and then drinking, or drinking and then falling, but the idea that a crepe party or a climbing wall is going to change either Princeton or Harvard’s social scenes (both of which are generally as alcohol soaked as our own, if not more so for Princeton) is laughable at best.

    College students are perfectly capable of deciding what to spend their money and time on. Since most events – involving drinking or not – are neither college sponsored nor funded, and most such social events involve alcohol, I think we can be fairly certain that students have voted with their time and money for what they want – namely, alcohol. The problem is not lack of options – it is lack of desire.

    And frankly, I don’t see it as a problem, having enjoyed a great four years (or at least heard about a great four years of partying via facebook photos and next day stories)

  • Exhilaration

    People seek exhilaration.

    They always have and always will it seems.

    Different strokes for different folks.

    Unfortunately, sometimes marriages, children, careers, organizations, lives, are damaged along the way.


  • A Mormon Yalie

    As a Mormon who doesn’t drink, I can perfectly relate to your frustration. Thank you for articulating a common thought.

  • Seek

    People seek exhilaration. Some encounter danger. Some encounter death. Some not.


  • An Atheist Yalie

    As an atheist who sometimes drink, I can somewhat imperfectly relate to your frustration. Thank you for articulating a common thought.

    Your comment about the lack of enforcement of the ban on grain, as well as the decline of people who are even thinking about the issue, is troubling. This isn’t a religious issue, although certain members of various faiths are likely to be ore affected by the general culture. That said, I’m not sure it’s one Yale can fix, but Yalies.

  • y

    Why not consider drinking in moderation? Am I the only Yale student who believes there is an alternative to either abstinence or excess? I thought we were supposed to be the smart kids….

  • Luke Bavarious

    I, for one, am in favor of the police state.

    Some claim that policing doesn’t work. They are wrong.
    We simply haven’t enforced an alcohol-free policy with extreme terror and fearmongering. Past efforts have not tapped into man’s deep well of cruelty. Unless the phrase “blood in the streets” can accurately describe our campus, then I don’t think we’ve gone far enough.

  • CC’09

    As a former student who doesn’t drink (out of personal preference), I’m baffled by your frustration. I entertained myself (when not studying) for my four yeas at Yale without ever feeling hindered by my abstinence. Perhaps you should check out the dazzling array of enjoyable activities (clubs, concerts, lectures, museums, etc. ad inf.) that Yale already offers…

  • Yale mom

    THANK YOU for proposing the seemingly preposterous idea that remaining sober is a perfectly viable option. Drinking in moderation? Now, that IS a truly preposterous concept for teens and those in their early 20’s. Intelligence (or lack thereof) has no bearing or influence on the consumption of alcohol. The attitude on the part of campus officials toward this matter becomes self-fulfilling. I have been saying all along what the author has suggested here – simply stated: find some way to entertain yourself that does not involve alcohol….I dare you!
    Contrary to what you may think, it IS possible to have fun without being drunk.

  • miamisprings

    Brilliant article!!!! Thank you Mr. Rosett.

    @y, you too are brilliant. With all the smart people at Yale, can’t someone or some group come up with a happy and safe medium?

    Students are going to drink but please Administrators…give them opportunities for moderation!!! Before more tragedies occur.

    Yes, it is our responsibility as parents. Some of us did teach our children but some did not.

    There is no going back…Yale has them now so give them options and provide a safe environment.

    Again excellent article! I thank you as a parent for pointing out the obvious.

  • LegalTaxedDrinking

    1. Let’s lower the drinking age to 19.

    Reason: This is older than most high school students, but young enough that most college students will be able to soon go legally to bars and restaurants, where they will send more, and drink less, than at binge parties.

    2. Let’s add a nickel tax per mL of pure alcohol.

    Reason: We need money. And this would add about $1 per bottle of 12 oz. beer, $5 per 750 mL bottle of wine, $15 per 750 mL bottle of hard liquor, and $35 per bottle of 750 mL grain alcohol.

    If this didn’t influence the amount and type of alcohol students drank, nothing would. The basic problem with drinking today is that most events use hard liquor or grain because it is so much cheaper. This means that is possible to drink too much alcohol without drinking that much liquid. If all people drank was beer, it would be much more difficult to get drunk — especially early in one’s college career when students are “experimenting.”

    @ y, You’re not alone.

    p.s. This tax would have to be national, because otherwise people would just purchase elsewhere. Make it a federal mandate that states institute the tax — or else lose their highway money. We know how to do it …

  • Yale 08

    As a Yale athlete, I didn’t drink until I was 21. It wasn’t a problem socially (except that I avoided Toads until 21 as well, which might have been a blessing).

    I found myself in the middle of 2 odd groups:

    1- Those who drank to black out.
    2- Those who NEVER drank a drop.

    I preferred the black outs to the teetotallers. At least the sloppy drunks weren’t closet Gnostics.

  • y10

    there are two theatrical productions this weekend, a cultural show (ViSA), and an a cappella jam. next weekend is the Dramat freshman show, another a cappella jam, and a concert hosted by Volume. every weekend is like this. none of these events require alcohol.

  • 2010

    There are six (undergrad) theatrical productions this weekend, and a Yale Concert Band Performance. That alone is impossible to make it to even with matinees and late friday showings.

    If theater/music isn’t what you are looking for, plan something. Do you think the six theatrical productions were told to happen so that people would have something to do? No, a group of students wanted to do a show, and found a space and funding, and made it happen.

  • JE ’10

    I appreciate and agree with Mr. Rosett’s concern’s about the drinking culture at Yale, but I hope he doesn’t think that top-down “sober” events are going to change it. Crepe-making parties and large games of Pretty Pretty Princess may work for the pansies at Harvard and Princeton, but will never get the job done at Yale. The solution to the problem of students getting blackout drunk is to teach them to drink like the Yale men they are, and not like puking lightweight cretins. If it wants to combat this shameful culture, Yale should organize cognac tastings, mixology sessions, and weekly trips to the Owl Shop to determine which scotches pair best with which cigars (on Yale’s dime, of course).

  • Yaleish

    “there are two theatrical productions this weekend, a cultural show (ViSA), and an a cappella jam. next weekend is the Dramat freshman show, another a cappella jam, and a concert hosted by Volume. every weekend is like this. none of these events require alcohol.”

    ALL of those events require alcohol, just to handle the obnoxious participants.

  • BR10

    I am so habituated to pregaming events that I actually can’t have fun at anything if I don’t drink before or during. From going to Toads to going to seminar, I just need to be drunk. Same goes for sex. And church.

  • extraneous variable?

    something to consider.

  • ?

    start a group for sober college students. you can’t really just ask Yale to GIVE you a social life, at some point you have to do it yourself. there are plenty of venues for sober fun.

  • saybrook997

    Yalies work 7 days a week (and are very sober), except Fri. and Sat. nights, maybe Thurs. night. Good Puritan work ethic (high moral standards need some work, but not meeting them is necessary to provide employment to many people–Yale adm., churches, Yale police, moms, health centers, and more).

    What I see is that after classes, reading, papers, extra-carriculars, athelics, working out, student associations (incl. Jewish, Catholic, and how many go to women’s center?) dining hall food and talk, naps, sleep, showers/shaving/laundry, what’s left is students dividing time between alcolhol, drugs and/or sex.

    Hard drugs are out. Pot is not too bad, but it stinks, and I don’t like seeing friends goofy faced on weekday afternoon before dinner. Since temp. “Yale marriages,” hookups and asexual are the only sex Yalies have had for I’d say 40 years, those unmaturing, regressive relationships are unsatisfying mostly (girls need to come up with new relationships, and guys do what girls tell them or train them to do).

    That leaves alcohol with friends as the only decent alternative in the alcohol/drugs/sex category (say 70%/10%/20%). You can change the allocation if you please let me know drug and sex choices that don’t stink.

    So in those few non-work ethic hours on Fri./Sat. nights, alcohol, with friends and fun, is the better choice now, without grain alcohol shots, punch or poisoning. Moderation is good, and most of us try for fun unwinding with friends, not sick drunk.

  • @JE ’10

    Whoa whoa whoa whoa…hold on a minute…

    Harvard and Princeton have crepe-making parties?

    I want in on that action.

  • 2012

    I went to high school in Europe where I drank every time I went out – but only 2 to three beers or drinks, not even enough to get tipsy, and I would have a perfectly good time. Once I got to Yale though, I started binge drinking like everyone else around me. Now I don’t have fun when I go out unless I’m near blackout drunk. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is. Maybe because everyone else is drunk around me, or maybe because most parties are so lame/crowded/sketchy that they can only be enjoyed drunk. In any case, Yale has turned me into an alcoholic every single Friday and Saturday night.

  • Just because your religion dictates an anti-alcohol policy doesn’t mean that others should be banned from it.

  • Skinnet

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting a police state or a more stringent anti-alcohol policy. As I understand, Rosett is merely asking for the university to promote sobriety as a viable alternative to the weekend drinking culture in the form of increased grants and awareness. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s obvious that events involving alcohol are widely-publicized, but when have we seen an event that people aren’t expected to pre-game? Personally, a crepe night sounds awesome.