When it comes to student drinking, many Yale parents turn to the maxim “out of sight, out of mind.”
Reached at home to discuss their opinions on Yale’s alcohol policy, several parents had conflicting impressions of the presence of alcohol on campus. Some claimed that their children do not drink. Others said they were aware that their sons and daughters’ friends have been drunk once or twice, but that their children hardly drink at all. But all were confident that alcohol was not a significant part of student life at Yale.
Yet the near-ubiquitous presence of alcohol on Yale’s campus, particularly at weekend parties, suggests that at least some of these parents have been hoodwinked by their progeny.
Yale President Richard Levin’s announcement earlier this month that he would form a committee to review Yale’s historically lenient alcohol policy came amid concerns that excessive drinking is increasing on campus. But even parents who said they are familiar with alcohol abuse problems at other universities said they did not believe Yale has similar problems.
Katherine Kline, whose daughter is a junior, said she is under the impression that there is less drinking at Yale than at other universities.
“All the statistics that I’ve read about females that binge drink, [my daughter] doesn’t know anyone like that,” said Kline. “Is it that Yale kids are more mature?”
Several parents were unwilling to speak at length for the article but said they were positive their children do not drink, or only occasionally drink a small amount. No parent out of a dozen contacted said he or she would like to see Yale adopt a “dry campus” policy against student drinking.
But Kline and other parents said underage drinking on college campuses is most likely inevitable.
“Do I want my daughter getting drunk on Friday or Saturday night? Hardly,” said Tina Connelly, the mother of a Yale sophomore. “The reality is, kids are going to drink.”
Both Kline and Connelly said any University policy change should preserve emphasis on safety over discipline. Trying to ban underage drinking on campus would force students to sneak around or go off-campus, Connelly said, which would result in more dangerous situations.
“It seems to me what you have to do is say, ‘What you really want to do is change the behavior. What’s the way to do that?'” Kline said.
Kenneth Bowen ’81 said increasing punishments for alcohol would cause students to abuse “rare opportunities” to drink by getting drunk.
“When I was in college, part of what we learned was how to drink responsibly,” Bowen said. “The current approach is about as reasonable as you can get.”
Bowen said his daughter does not drink alcohol, which makes him less worried about the presence of alcohol on campus.
“I don’t worry about her,” Bowen said. “She doesn’t drink, so I don’t have as much issues as some people might. If she chose to drink some it wouldn’t bother me much.”
In situations where students do drink excessive amounts, Kline said the residential college system fosters a sense of community so that students take care of each other. Connelly said she feels secure about her daughter because deans and masters are available for assistance as “a kind of intervention” in the case of a serious problem.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s so wonderful about the college system and the suite system, that you care for each other,” Connelly said.
Because many Yale students are living away from home for the first time during their freshman year, many parents said the University has a responsibility to act “in loco parentis”–in place of parents–to guide students about alcohol use.
“I think you’re having to deal with kids from a variety of backgrounds who haven’t been outside of their families,” Kline said.
Bowen said the University should have a “supervisory attitude” towards drinking but should not be obliged to enforce the legal drinking age strictly.
“I think that the only reason that the drinking age is 21 is to make sure that you don’t have 16-year-olds drinking,” he said.
Bowen compared the in loco parentis responsibility of the University to his role as the parent of a high schooler. In Ohio, where Bowen lives, it is legal for a parent to order a beer in a bar for their children, a state law that Bowen said encourages teenagers to learn to drink responsibly.
“The parent should have the ability to allow that on a limited basis,” Bowen said. “One beer or glass of wine is not going to hurt a 16 year-old or 18-year-old or 19-year-old.”