Ivies tighten alcohol policies

This fall, Ivy League institutions simultaneously debuted new student life policies and programs intended to bolster alcohol safety on college campuses.

Seven of eight Ivy League universities — Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard — have all rolled out new alcohol-related policies since last August, with a series of major regulation changes occurring at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Administrators and students said they have noticed a shift away from direct disciplinary approaches toward more creative educational programs, but students at four schools said the recent policies have targeted alcohol usage at the expense of Greek life.

Administrators said the recent changes do not stem from collaborative efforts between the universities, but reflect growing concerns nationwide over safe drinking practices.

“We are in a wave where many universities are trying to curb high-risk drinking,” said Yale Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90. “There is a lot of research that high-risk drinking has risen in recent years.”

In 2010, administrators from Dartmouth launched the National College Health Improvement Project, a group of 32 colleges and universities gathering data on the effectiveness of alcohol regulation policies on campus. Lisa Johnson, a director of NCHIP, said five Ivy League schools including Yale take part in the project, adding that the group represents a shift toward a stronger emphasis on health in college drinking regulations.

Yale College Dean’s Office Fellow Hannah Peck DIV ’11 said the establishment of NCHIP was “indicative of the Ivies starting to pay attention” to problems related to excessive alcohol use, and Tim Marchell, Cornell’s associate director of health promotion, said NCHIP has helped Cornell expand its efforts to reduce high-risk drinking.

Two Ivy-wide organizations dealing with alcohol currently exist — a student-run conference, the Ivy Student Summit on Alcohol Harm Reduction, and a coalition of mental health and student affairs professionals, said Peck. The summit was hosted at Dartmouth last spring, but the consortium of professionals has been inactive in the past few years, Peck said.

Paul McKinley DRA ’96, a spokesman for the Dean’s Office, said these organizations allow for schools to exchange ideas, but they have not led to a coordinated effort to implement alcohol policies across all Ivy League schools.

“There is a lot of sharing of data and sharing of practices,” he said. “But as far I know there is not a [collusive] effort.”

While broader efforts have not produced changes in drinking culture across the Ivy League, universities have begun to address alcohol-related problems on their own.

Yale administrators announced a new regulation requiring all off-campus parties to be registered with the Dean’s Office in August, as well as two new committees to address alcohol and drug use among students in December.

Students interviewed at Yale, Princeton, Cornell and Dartmouth said a number of the recent alcohol-related policies tackle issues concerning alcohol usage by expanding regulations on Greek life. Oscar Correia, a member of Cornell’s President’s Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs in the 2011–’12 academic year, said Cornell’s attempt to restructure its Greek system in the past year is partly aimed at reducing high-risk drinking, which is most prevalent among fraternity members and during hazing.

Dartmouth has also seen a series of policies relating to alcohol usage and Greek life implemented in the past few years, including a ban on punch at parties and the introduction of random walkthroughs at fraternity and sorority houses by safety and security officers, said Cole Adams, the social chair of Dartmouth’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter.

At Princeton, a ban on freshman rush that came into effect this fall was indirectly aimed at reducing freshman access to alcohol, said Nathan Mathabane, a member of Princeton’s Alcohol Coalition Committee and a residential adviser.

Matthew Breuer ’14, a member of the Yale College Dean’s Office Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs, said he thinks the alcohol-related policies implemented at Yale and other Ivy League universities can result in exclusive social spaces rather than more open ones because fraternities and other groups will restrict attendance at parties.

“As Yale and universities around us work towards combating binge drinking, we have to think about the side effects of our policy choices,” Breuer said. “If we start to shut down these social spaces or they are forced to become more restrictive about who is allowed in, not only do we push drinking into more dangerous, underground spaces, but it runs the risk of establishing a social hierarchy that has really negative consequences for the social and sexual climate on campus.”

Smaller initiatives not associated with formal policy changes have also taken place this fall at universities such as Yale, Cornell and Princeton. Marchell said Cornell takes a “public health approach” to alcohol that involves creative efforts at curbing alcohol abuse, such as holding dry late-night events and implementing student-led alcohol safety initiatives.

A culture of heavy drinking exists on Ivy League campuses because heavy drinking is more prevalent among people in New England and of higher socio-economic status, said Toben Nelson, associate director of the College Alcohol Study, a group at the Harvard School of Public Health that conducts national surveys on college students’ alcohol consumption.

“That sort of privilege or entitlement to heavy drinking pushes back on well-known interventions that can help limit them,” Nelson said.

Yale students drink more than the national average for college students, according to a survey conducted by the Dean’s Office.

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