GUTIERREZ: Student health, not discipline

In the past few weeks I’ve heard from friends about instances of severely inebriated people being left outside parties in the hopes that they’ll be someone else’s problem. I’ve heard about freshman counselors being ex-commed after calling Yale Health to pick up a fellow (inebriated) freshman counselor; I’ve heard about Yale Police standing and watching while a group of Yalies drunkenly decide what to do with an incapacitated friend. These things are happening because the Yale College Dean’s Office is taking an increasingly disciplinary stance toward student alcohol consumption, thereby creating a rift between students and the YCDO.

We are currently dealing with nebulous and vague policies. On one hand, administrators encourage us to call the ambulance in case of an emergency. Yet the consequence for attempting to help a friend could very well be expulsion.

We are seeing the YCDO prioritize discipline over student health.

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that the YCDO is re-evaluating campus drinking culture. In the midst of a searching for a new president and in the aftermath of the Title IX investigation, Yale is in a pivotal place of introspection. It is necessary that as we think about what Yale is and what its values are, we also consider the role drinking plays in that identity.

Most Yale undergraduates would agree that binge drinking can be dangerous. But the YCDO’s approach to the issue perpetuates the problems that it is frantically trying to solve. Rather than taking a public health approach, the YCDO is implementing disciplinary measures that could very possibly create new and more dire problems for it to solve later.

When I met with one of the YCDO’s student life graduate fellows, she raised an important question when she said that granting Yale students immunity for alcohol violations could be problematic. Why should Yale students feel entitled to a free pass to avoid the consequences of dangerous drinking habits? If a group of underage drinkers sends their drunkest friend to the hospital, why should doing the right thing exempt them from the law?

This is a good point — it raises questions that I’m afraid I don’t have answers to. It is understandable that the YCDO must balance many different factors, deciding how much to crack down and how much to allow for leeway.

When weighing these options, the YCDO should prioritize student health. Phone calls to Yale-New Haven should not be an incriminating process. That phone call is about saving a person’s life.

There are approaches to combating binge drinking that don’t rely on threatening students. Some of these approaches are already happening on campus, and don’t require reinventing student drinking policy. For example, Master Stephen Pitti of Ezra Stiles College issues money for students to buy pizza for registered parties, with the intention of allowing guests to drink on a full stomach.

And now, the YCDO announced it would fund all-day and all-night activities during fall break. I assume this policy is aimed at preventing alcohol-related incidents from occurring, given that a good number of students will stay on campus for fall break. This is a phenomenal first step that represents the kinds of policies we need to be seeing more of from the YCDO.

An important next step is for the YCDO to stop sending the message that students may be punished for seeking medical attention in a potentially life-threatening situation. The two minutes that it takes to call Yale-New Haven are two life-saving minutes. The YCDO must send a message that tells students not to fear helping a friend or a stranger in a dire situation.

If students and the administration want to curb binge drinking, they should implement constructive steps rather than destructive policies. Support on-campus parties by granting them funds to buy food. Stop focusing on discipline — such as hiring an outside security company for Safety Dance — and start focusing on creating a positive partnership with students. This conversation is ultimately about student well-being, not student punishment.

Alejandro Gutierrez is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact him at alejandro.guttierrez@yale. edu .


  • The Anti-Yale

    The REALm question is: WHY are people binge drinking?

    The answer: The emptiness of their lives.

    Why would kids in the wealthiest country in the world feel empty?

    Because from the moment they are born, they are taught a thousand times a day by print and digital advertising that the highest value in our culture is TO CONSUME. And they watch adults obeying this dictum from the moment they are born and begin being raised by these robots of consumerism.

    Their way of satirizing the emptiness of this value system is to take it to the most grotesque extreme: Consume until you obliterate the consciousness of the consumer.


    • AtticusFinch

      haha. this guy.

    • jamesdakrn

      no you idiot. We binge drink because sometimes its fukcing fun as hell

  • leftatyale

    The current policies are not great, we can probably agree to that; does purely removing discipline from the picture make it any better, I’m not totally sure. Bearing in mind that the University also holds legal responsibility as an entity, one cannot simply say health takes priority over discipline before the law. Immediate treatment should definitely be privileged, but that doesn’t mean people can walk away from their own responsibility, so long as they are still in place, either. I, for one, think the logical position to argue for, albeit idealistic, is the lowering of drinking age to 18–I think those who have experienced/grown up in jurisdictions will see how *that* helps reduce significant binge-drinking (though PK is also right).

    • mrmike527

      The issue is that the discipline most students are worried about is not legal discipline–it’s administrative. If I’m choosing whether to bring my friend to DUH and the risk is an underage drinking citation, who cares? It’s a ticket. If the risk is an excomm, or discipline for him and me from our deans, or his getting potentially fired as a Froco, then suddenly there’s a real consideration.

      99% of the time that people end up at DUH they’re not going to die if they don’t go. If I’m going to receive an informal or formal punishment every time I take my friend to DUH, I’m probably not going to bring him or her there simply because of the 1% risk. The Yale administrative stance has been one to avoid tragedy–that every time someone is dangerously drunk, you should bring them in, to avoid that 1% of the time it may end up fatal. But in order for that policy to be accepted by students, you can’t discipline them when they choose to follow those directions.

      This debate seems to mirror others about entitlement through practical problem solving–that is, it mirrors debates like the one about sex education in schools or HPV vaccines for young women. The safest drinking culture is undoubtedly the one in which no binge drinking happens. And certainly, allowing students a free pass when they get dangerously drunk and seek help makes it easier for them to get dangerously drunk in the first place. But if Yale decides to take a disciplinary approach, and to crack down on drinking, will binge drinking be eliminated? I say absolutely not.

      So if that is the case–that no amount of administration action is going to eliminate binge drinking–are we more comfortable with some group of students getting dangerously drunk in an environment where help is avoided? Or are we more comfortable with a somewhat larger group of students getting dangerously drunk in an environment where help is sought out without a second thought? I prefer the latter, though that’s not to say there’s no room for the former.

      • leftatyale

        Right I’m not saying that help should not be afforded — much the contrary, I do think we should encourage those who have the need to visit DUH and avoid any serious health/safety issues. There is definitely a lot of room for change (I have problems with the thought the Administration seems to have, which is that hiking up penalty/punishment for drinking would limit it. I think there should be less significant repercussions–ExComm is too much–but nonetheless not detach disciplinary actions from it)

        The fact that you have displayed a preferential concern for our privilege to be here over the law of the land reflects, I believe, both a widespread concern (especially on this issue) and our relationship with responsibility. The worse thing a Yalie can seem to lose is her privilege to continue to be here–not saying that’s not true in many ways but I think that’s also kind of reflective of the way we think about where our personal responsibilities end.

        I don’t like the impression of complicity that will result from removing all disciplinary associations with binge drinking on campus–I very much like to think that, while this deterrent is largely ineffective, if placed in concert with other positive policies (support alternative social events and campus education), it marks a right position to stand vis-à-vis an issue of significance. If we don’t want the College to be parental in its rules, well first let’s learn how to take care of ourselves.

  • Trum12

    You are so right! I’ve been proud in the past to be able to say that Yale took a more understanding and practical approach to alcohol-related student health and safety issues than many peer institutions – but it seems to be reversing several of those exact policies.

    Of course, an important part of what’s needed now is transparency. That is, sending a message (as Yale did at least in last’s years orientation programming) that students need not fear negative consequences of seeking help, so that they’re surprised when they are punished for taking positive action, alienates expanding groups from seeking help in the future. Yale needs to make its rules clearer, more precise, and more completely available to students, as well as making them more welfare-oriented given the realities of drinking on campus.

  • Lowrp

    I don’t get it. They know binge drinking is against the law, dumb, and potentially life threatening. Yet they are asking Yale to be complicit. Are they out of their minds?