This column is part of a point-counterpoint on Dartmouth’s ban on hard alcohol. Read the other column here.
Yale is not Dartmouth, but we, too, should ban hard liquor. We cannot talk about the sexual climate at Yale without addressing our drinking culture. There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation, but drinking to the point of blacking out is something else entirely. The Yale community should try an experiment: We should stop consuming hard alcohol on and off campus.
Too many students regularly engage in unnecessarily risky drinking. Taking shots in suites during pregames is the single most harmful student activity at Yale. Binge drinking may be fueled by peer pressure; it is awkward not to drink with your friends. Everyone can understand how blacking out is a terrifying and dangerous experience, both physically and socially. If we all cut out shots, life would be much safer. It is likely that with the right encouragement, the administration could help us diminish or eliminate blackouts at Yale.
Quickly drinking hard alcohol causes blackouts. A study that appeared in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, titled “Alcohol-Induced Blackouts,” suggests that a rapid increase in blood alcohol content is the cause of alcohol-induced memory loss. Yalies who enjoy being drunk can be comforted by the findings: Individuals who drank huge quantities of alcohol over a longer period of time became extremely intoxicated, but did not black out. Shots of bottom-shelf liquor are cheap and convenient tools to get drunk quickly, but they are the riskiest part of our campus drinking culture. Yale bans kegs on Old Campus, but not handles of Dubra, which are more dangerous.
Yale claims to treat alcohol as a health issue, and blackouts should be viewed as acute symptoms of real abuse. We could stop taking shots, stop blacking out and still have our drunken fun. Scientific research and anecdotal evidence suggest that hard alcohol is the real problem.
Blackouts are part of what’s wrong with campus sexual climate, both because alcohol mars judgment and because blackouts eliminate witnesses and complicate consent. One student told me that we have “an inalienable right to have drunk sex.” I am not sure that is true, but we certainly don’t have an inalienable right to have blacked-out sex or even to be blacked out at all.
Individuals who host parties have control over what they serve guests, but not over what those guests drink beforehand. They are in the awkward position of responsibility for partygoers, even (or especially) those who show up unsafely drunk. Fraternities and other party-throwing organizations would benefit from this restriction on those guests’ drinking.
If students, administrators, fraternities and student clubs could agree to stop drinking hard alcohol — as a means of experimenting with slower or less drinking in order to reduce black outs — we would all be better off. The administration could do many things to encourage slower, safer consumption. It could subsidize beer; it could allow kegs on Old Campus and disallow handles; it could communicate with students and solicit our cooperation. These changes may seem drastic or unusual, but only because liquor is an entrenched part of campus drinking culture.
Yes, if we only drank wine and beer, some students would not be able to drink as much or as quickly as before. But that’s the point. Alcohol can certainly be a social lubricant, but pounding shots in the space of a few minutes should not be an important part of that lubrication. The kind of social and sexual interactions that occur as the result of a few extra shots are exactly what we as a community should condemn. At the very least there would be less regret, less unsafe sex, less vomiting, less blacking out and perhaps better scholarship if nights out involved guzzling beers instead of Dubra. At the very least, fewer students would wake up with no idea of what they did or where they were the previous night.
We are in college, and deserve to be free and have fun. Still, it is hard to believe that we prefer a world in which much of our drinking consists of shots of paint thinner in a crowded dorm room at 11:15 p.m. to get “ready” for the 11:30 p.m. party.
Eliot Levmore is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.