The past year has seen a record number of alcohol-related hospitalizations, as well as a police crackdown on underage purchases at nearby liquor stores. The alarming trend peaked tragically on Halloween weekend with the death of Branford College sophomore Andre Narcisse ’12 — a death that, 14 weeks later, was shown to be caused by multiple drug toxicity, which may include alcohol.
Administrators have sent concerned e-mails, and freshman counselors have been instructed to take special care. But while Yale has revised its regulations in response to rashes of binge drinking in the recent past, for now, administrators said they will forgo policy changes in favor of continued discussion of solutions to alcohol abuse on campus.
“It’s a question that transcends Andre’s passing,” said Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, who chairs the Council of Masters. The health of the entire student body, he added, is affected by alcohol abuse.
“The policies are there. What else can we do?” Holloway said.
Yale officials, including University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who is in charge of campus security, said binge drinking on campus, or at least reports of it, have surged this academic year. During the weekend of the Safety Dance last October, for example, eight students were hospitalized for alcohol-related reasons, a number that Silliman College Master Judith Krauss said she believed was higher than that of previous years.
Highsmith said concerned administrators “don’t have any answers,” and Yale College Dean Mary Miller said administrators continue to study practices and initiatives that might reduce harm.
“As Dean and as a former master, I am of course concerned about the lives of each and every student,” Miller said in an e-mail Thursday.
Still, administrators say they are always mindful of alcohol abuse on campus, and the recent spate does not mean that alcohol policy will change in the near future.
“It’s not a topic that only comes up when something bad happens,” said Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, who heads up the Alcohol and Drug Advisory Committee, a group of faculty members and students that meets frequently to discuss substance abuse issues on campus and advises Miller.
Yale’s current alcohol policy, Gentry added, is “pretty good, but it could be better.”
But Holloway said the appropriate policies already exist, adding that at a certain point, there is a loss of interest at the administrative level.
“What else can we, other than turning into a police state?” Holloway said. “That’s not the answer.”
LAST REVISED IN 2006
But this spike in alcohol abuse is not unprecedented, and administrators do not need to look very far back into the past to find another uptick. During the 2005-’06 academic year, a Committee on Alcohol Policy made up of administrators, undergraduates and college masters and deans convened to review the University’s alcohol policies. The ensuing report, released in February 2006, demonstrated a desire to curb alcohol consumption on campus and to create an environment where students did not feel compelled to drink.
While the current policy makes alcohol-related infractions subject to disciplinary action by University officials, calling for emergency help does not necessarily lead to consequences. Gentry said this policy allows students to feel comfortable bringing drunk friends to Yale University Health Services, and is safer than just letting students “sleep it off in their rooms.”
Some alcohol regulations that arose from the 2006 committee’s report — including a campuswide grain alcohol ban and the stipulation that alcohol at registered parties may only be served by certified bartenders — are still in place today.
But the 2006 report also recommended housing residential fellows on Old Campus, scheduling more Friday classes to cut down on Thursday-night partying and possibly creating a new, alcohol-free social space for freshmen. Not all of the recommendations were enacted, and Provost Peter Salovey said last Monday that the challenges have not disappeared.
“There are additional ideas in the report that could and probably should receive further consideration,” said Salovey, who was dean of Yale College from 2004 to fall 2008. “The nature of risky drinking changes somewhat from cohort to cohort, and so student involvement in addressing it is critical.”
Betty Trachtenberg, the dean of student affairs during the 2005-’06 school year, when the report was released, said that while alcohol incidents were up that year, the rise in incidents was due in part to students feeling more comfortable calling for help if a friend was in need.
“Through our educational programs, they were aware of what was happening with their friends, and they were reporting it more,” she said in an interview last week. “If there was one thing that we did right, that was it.”
A WIDESPREAD PROBLEM
Yale is not the only university seeing an uptick in alcohol abuse, administrators said. Yale Police Chief James A. Perrotti said his counterparts at other schools have told him they are experiencing similar problems. Highsmith and Perrotti said they have seen an increase in abuse throughout the University — not limited to freshmen, or even to Yale.
“It’s absolutely not limited to freshmen,” Perrotti said. “We’ve had plenty of incidents with seniors and even graduate students acting irresponsibly.”
But Highsmith and Perrotti also said they could not explain the rise in incidents.
And police are not actively seeking out alcohol infractions, Perrotti said. Rather, officers are encountering more offenders as they perform their regular security duties. In particular, a police initiative designed to improve the quality of life in certain areas on and near campus found more alcohol violations committed by Yale students when officers cracked down on panhandling and disorderly behavior.
This past September, Yale Police charged only two minors with illegally consuming liquor. No minors were charged in October until Halloween weekend, when the initiative kicked off and five minors were charged with consuming liquor. In November, the department charged nine minors with consuming liquor.