In the first days of my time at Yale, my dean made Yale’s attitude toward alcohol clear to me and my peers: at Yale, alcohol is treated as a safety issue, not a disciplinary issue. For many of us, this was a refreshing change from high school. Yale’s policy provided opportunities for first experiments with alcohol to take place in a safe environment, a place in which students took responsibility for the well-being of their fellow Yalies. As a freshman, I would never have thought twice about the disciplinary consequences for bringing a friend to Yale Health.
Perhaps Yale’s policies have changed since then, or perhaps after three years my naïveté has simply worn away, but I am now confident that this promise rings hollow. Yale’s administration has made clear that consequences result from hospital visits, and that students should be wary of when and where they call for help.
At the heart of this issue is the problematic way Yale approaches transports to Yale Health. The University encourages students to call for help any time they have an alcohol-related concern. If the ultimate goal is safety, this is a policy that any sane person should support. Yet once a transport occurs, administrators shift tone. Rather than approaching the decision to seek medical help as one to be applauded, administrators treat transports as evidence for the cancelation of social events and opportunities for disciplinary action.
Using Yale Health transports as justification to end a campus-wide event, as was the case with last year’s Safety Dance, is frustrating. Yet the far more harmful manifestation of the University’s attitude is the aggressive use of Yale Health visits as opportunities to identify and discipline those who give alcohol to their underage friends. Many college deans insist on meeting with students after a Yale Health visit, then use the discussion — which could otherwise be beneficial to the student — to interrogate underage students about their alcohol supplier. Deans then report their findings to the Executive Committee, Yale Police, or both. Yale’s message to underage drinkers seems to be, “You won’t face consequences, but we will use your name and your actions to punish your friends,” as if the latter isn’t simply a different flavor of the former.
Yale students are not entitled to drink while underage or to serve alcohol to those underage, both of which are illegal. And University administrators certainly are within their rights in choosing to punish lawbreakers. Yet before acting upon that right, the University should ask whether this policy best serves its students and fosters a safe campus drinking culture. As Yale continues to shut down events and punish individuals because of transports to Yale Health and Yale-New Haven Hospital, calling for help has become as much a risk as a resource. Before calling Yale Health for a friend, Yale students are forced to weigh the right thing to do against consequences that Yale denies exist.
That’s why, as Yale makes changes to its alcohol policy this fall, its first change should be to reconsider its attitude towards voluntary visits to Yale Health. When a student seeks help because he or she feels a friend is in danger, that decision should be celebrated rather than disincentivized. If the University continues to open an investigation every time a student makes a Yale Health visit, it cannot reasonably expect its students to believe these visits are without disciplinary consequence. The University’s interrogation of students who have chosen to seek help needs to end.
Maybe the Yale administration simply believes that if these consequences are severe enough, they will eradicate underage drinkers from campus completely. But if this is, in fact, the University’s attitude, then we should ask that our university be more honest with us, its students. Perhaps then next year, the deans will have a new message for their freshmen: safety second.
Mike Wolner is a senior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.