Like many students, I found last semester’s record number of incidents of alcohol poisoning more than a bit concerning. Yale’s administration has rightly recognized that the consequences are only magnified when students are too scared to get treatment for their friends who find themselves in a compromised state. The resulting policies, with their emphasis on amnesty over punishment, help make our campus a safer place.
As the article in Monday’s News made clear, however, these policies only go so far — the “harm reduction” approach is not enough. But as of yet the administration has been unable to figure out how to supplement their current policies, with Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 saying, “What else can we do, other than turning into a police state? That’s not the answer.” While I agree that harsh disciplinary measures are both undesirable and counterproductive, I think there are alternatives to our current policy.
Quite simply, Yale needs to present staying sober, be it for a night or for four years, as a viable option.
From the moment that students arrive for freshman orientation, the underlying assumption seems to be that every single one of them will drink each weekend. Notably absent from the Camp Yale events is any kind of encouragement to simply find other ways to spend your weekend nights. This is disappointing. Nobody at Yale would claim that simply telling students not to drink would be an effective method of ensuring safety, but by presenting staying sober as a reasonable choice, Yale could help combat the problems associated with excessive drinking.
Unfortunately, the lack of support for alcohol free alternatives extends past the end of Camp Yale. Residential colleges fund screws and events like Safety Dance that are either pre-gamed or, in the case of at least one college’s screw, have an open bar. Alcohol free events, by contrast, are virtually nonexistent.
Yale lags behind its Ivy League rivals in this respect. Grants from Harvard’s Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors allow groups of undergraduates to get funding for small alcohol-free events like crepe making parties; the Alcohol Initiative at Princeton provides funding that, among other things, allows their campus’ climbing wall to triple its staff and provide free food each Thursday night. These programs cost relatively little but still provide each university with a way to reduce the risks of drinking without resorting to harsh disciplinary measures. Furthermore, they give students more options on the nights that they choose not to drink. Since virtually every Yale student spends at least the occasional night sober, this could benefit teetotalers and imbibers alike.
Of course, Harvard and Princeton are not Yale, and perhaps a different solution would be more appropriate for our campus. But Yale’s administration has shown a remarkable lack of desire to confront both the public health and social problems created by their current policies. This indifference is best illustrated by the failure to effectively implement the recommendations of the panel that was convened in February 2005 specifically to address the issue of alcohol at Yale. A couple of the suggestions, like the ban on grain alcohol, have been implemented in a rather ineffective manner, and many were ignored. Probably the most visible of these was the suggestion that Yale hire an “alcohol director.” Yale started the search in April 2008, then announced that the search was being extended until September, and then said nothing about it for the rest of the year. In January 2009, the News reported that Yale had decided not to hire an alcohol director and instead would be forming a committee composed of students, administrators and faculty to address the issue. That committee was never actually formed.
For the significant number of students who would like for the university to at least consider providing alternatives to drinking, this delay has been disheartening; for our community at large, it has been dangerous.
I encourage Yale’s administration to follow through on its promise to create this committee and demonstrate its commitment to finding constructive solutions. We have options that are more effective and more desirable than either ignoring the problem or turning Yale into a police state, and it’s time that we explore them.
Max Rosett is a sophomore in Calhoun College.