You must be 21 or older to drink in the state of Connecticut — but not in Singapore.
In Singapore, where Yale-NUS makes its home, the legal drinking age is 18. But that does not mean that drinking on Yale-NUS’ campus is simple: a survey distributed by the Yale-NUS Student Government earlier this semester found that barely over half of students — 51.9 percent — were satisfied with the school’s alcohol policy, with 46.8 percent declaring it too strict. Only 1.3 percent of students believed it was too lenient. Based on this student feedback, as well as students’ concerns that the policies are too nebulous, the student government is pushing for a clearer and more lenient alcohol policy at Yale-NUS, though the school already loosened its policies this fall.
According to Yale-NUS’ General Housing Guidelines, “alcohol may not be sold or consumed on campus unless otherwise approved, such as in approved food outlets on campus or during approved events and programs.” Although the policy prohibits drinking on campus, students interviewed said their Dean’s Fellows and graduate advisors have told them they need not gain approval for drinking in private spaces such as informal suite parties, but only in public. Previously, when Yale-NUS did not have its own campus but occupied a single building on the National University of Singapore’s campus, students had to abide by NUS’ “dry campus” policy, meaning that drinking was banned in any setting, private or public, according to Dave Chappell YNUS ’18, a member of the student government’s Community Living Committee. But after Yale-NUS moved to its new campus this fall, he said, the policy was relaxed.
Under the current policy, students planning to host events with alcohol need to gain approval from the Office of the Dean of Students, and additional consent from their rectors if the event happens in a residential hall.
“[Requiring approval] is a relatively new part of the policy, so it’s still under development,” Chappell said. “As such, events are generally given approval on an ad hoc basis, at least from my understanding. This is an area the student government is hoping to work with the Dean of Students’ Office on, as we have received some feedback that guidelines are unclear.” In April, Chappell gave a presentation to the administration on the results of a separate Community Learning Survey the student government had distributed earlier that year, in which 64 percent of the 210 respondents voted in favor of a “wet campus.”
Interim Dean of Students Brian McAdoo said the process for getting approval involves submitting a form with the event’s details to the Dean of Students’ Office. A member of the office’s team will meet with the student organizers to run through the event details and provide advice on event management, McAdoo said, adding that students seeking to register an event with alcohol must also have completed the school’s comprehensive alcohol safety training program, “Raising the Bar,” which focuses on the skills and tools needed to host healthy, safe and responsible events on campus.
McAdoo did not specify the guidelines for approved events.
“As an educational institution, our priority is to create a community of learning,” he said. “Hence, the Dean of Students’ Office conceptualized an alcohol policy which is tailored for the needs of the Yale-NUS community, while complying with Singapore’s laws.”
Compared to its peer institutions in Singapore, Yale-NUS treads a middle ground in terms of the strictness of its alcohol policy. At NUS, alcohol consumption is prohibited except at designated beverage outlets and university events. But Nanyang Technological University does not have specific rules limiting on-campus drinking, so long as the individual is “socially responsible” when drinking, according to the school’s Student Code of Conduct.
Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said the lower drinking age in Singapore frees the school from many alcohol-related problems such as the binge-drinking facing American universities today. Because the drinking age is lower, he said, college events can offer alcohol to students and allow them to drink in a regulated environment, whereas students under the drinking age in the U.S. usually consume alcohol in unregulated spaces off campus and are more likely to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors.
While approved Yale-NUS events are allowed to serve alcohol, Chappell said this does not occur frequently. Based on his memory, Chappell said, only three official events so far this semester have had alcohol, and those events were closely regulated. He added that Yale-NUS’ cafe, which will open soon, will likely serve alcohol during specific hours.
Besides advocating for more leniency and clearer alcohol approval guidelines, the student government is also looking at the expansion of Yale-NUS’ student insurance to include alcohol-related injuries. According to Lewis, the school has not yet had a single alcohol-related hospitalization.
Of nine Yale-NUS students interviewed, seven said they seldom party or drink and declined to comment further. The remaining two students said they are satisfied with the school’s current alcohol policy.
Jonas Do Ung Yun YNUS ’18 said the alcohol policy is appropriate because while it allows students to drink on campus for the purpose of building a community and celebrating cultural holidays, it is also restrictive enough to maintain the proper atmosphere of the campus as a place of learning.
“We definitely have rights to drink alcohol and forge a community together as a college,” Yun said. “We have the right to enjoy and indulge. However, we also have the duties as a student that we have to fulfill. And often, these duties and rights come into a conflict. Such is why I am in favor of a policy that is neither strict nor lenient.”
Melody Tay YNUS ’19 said she is satisfied with the alcohol policy, adding that it is “reasonable” for the school to restrict drinking to private confines.
Tay added that the most common drinking space at Yale-NUS is students’ suites, and most students buy alcohol from nearby grocery stores, or duty-free shops during their travels because of Singapore’s heavy tax on alcohol.
The duty rates are 60 Singapore dollars ($42.66) per liter of alcohol for beer, stout, cider and perry — an alcoholic drink made from fermented pears, and S$88 per liter of alcohol for other types of liquor, according to Singapore Customs.