In the past few weeks I’ve heard from friends about instances of severely inebriated people being left outside parties in the hopes that they’ll be someone else’s problem. I’ve heard about freshman counselors being ex-commed after calling Yale Health to pick up a fellow (inebriated) freshman counselor; I’ve heard about Yale Police standing and watching while a group of Yalies drunkenly decide what to do with an incapacitated friend. These things are happening because the Yale College Dean’s Office is taking an increasingly disciplinary stance toward student alcohol consumption, thereby creating a rift between students and the YCDO.
We are currently dealing with nebulous and vague policies. On one hand, administrators encourage us to call the ambulance in case of an emergency. Yet the consequence for attempting to help a friend could very well be expulsion.
We are seeing the YCDO prioritize discipline over student health.
It’s undoubtedly a good thing that the YCDO is re-evaluating campus drinking culture. In the midst of a searching for a new president and in the aftermath of the Title IX investigation, Yale is in a pivotal place of introspection. It is necessary that as we think about what Yale is and what its values are, we also consider the role drinking plays in that identity.
Most Yale undergraduates would agree that binge drinking can be dangerous. But the YCDO’s approach to the issue perpetuates the problems that it is frantically trying to solve. Rather than taking a public health approach, the YCDO is implementing disciplinary measures that could very possibly create new and more dire problems for it to solve later.
When I met with one of the YCDO’s student life graduate fellows, she raised an important question when she said that granting Yale students immunity for alcohol violations could be problematic. Why should Yale students feel entitled to a free pass to avoid the consequences of dangerous drinking habits? If a group of underage drinkers sends their drunkest friend to the hospital, why should doing the right thing exempt them from the law?
This is a good point — it raises questions that I’m afraid I don’t have answers to. It is understandable that the YCDO must balance many different factors, deciding how much to crack down and how much to allow for leeway.
When weighing these options, the YCDO should prioritize student health. Phone calls to Yale-New Haven should not be an incriminating process. That phone call is about saving a person’s life.
There are approaches to combating binge drinking that don’t rely on threatening students. Some of these approaches are already happening on campus, and don’t require reinventing student drinking policy. For example, Master Stephen Pitti of Ezra Stiles College issues money for students to buy pizza for registered parties, with the intention of allowing guests to drink on a full stomach.
And now, the YCDO announced it would fund all-day and all-night activities during fall break. I assume this policy is aimed at preventing alcohol-related incidents from occurring, given that a good number of students will stay on campus for fall break. This is a phenomenal first step that represents the kinds of policies we need to be seeing more of from the YCDO.
An important next step is for the YCDO to stop sending the message that students may be punished for seeking medical attention in a potentially life-threatening situation. The two minutes that it takes to call Yale-New Haven are two life-saving minutes. The YCDO must send a message that tells students not to fear helping a friend or a stranger in a dire situation.
If students and the administration want to curb binge drinking, they should implement constructive steps rather than destructive policies. Support on-campus parties by granting them funds to buy food. Stop focusing on discipline — such as hiring an outside security company for Safety Dance — and start focusing on creating a positive partnership with students. This conversation is ultimately about student well-being, not student punishment.
Alejandro Gutierrez is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact him at alejandro.guttierrez@yale. edu .