‘Open door’ alcohol policy unlikely for Duke, admins say
By Neelesh Moorthy
June 15, 2015
Duke administrators stand by the University’s alcohol policies even as students suggest they have created a less open environment on campus. What do you think?
Duke’s alcohol policy explicitly prohibits students under 21 from purchasing, possessing or otherwise consuming alcohol, as is consistent with North Carolina law. Serving hard alcohol is also not permitted at student events. In recent years, students have expressed concern that these policies push parties and alcohol off campus—potentially leading to unsafe environments and high-risk behavior.
Senior Bryan Dinner, Duke Student Government vice president for social culture, said he plans to work with the administration this year to create a more open atmosphere that he hopes will facilitate the safer use of alcohol on campus.?
“When I talk to alumni they tell me Duke is not the same campus as it was five years ago,” he said. “We don’t have an open drinking culture as a campus, and that’s not healthy.”
The “open door”
Duke’s stated alcohol policy diverges from that of its peer institutions. Washington University in St. Louis, for example, states in its policy it “places its highest enforcement priority on enforcing violations that are disruptive, dangerous, and/or flagrant,” phrasing not found in Duke’s policy.
Similarly, Stanford University uses an “open-door policy,” wherein students won’t face disciplinary action for drinking in their rooms with their doors open to residential staff that can intervene if safety becomes an issue.
Dinner said DSG has consistently advocated for policies like Stanford’s—which he believes has the potential to defeat unrealistic drinking expectations, discourage hard alcohol consumption and create an atmosphere of trust amongst students and residential staff. But the University has not been receptive to such a change despite input given by students. What do you think?
“If you know that people are going to drink anyway, there’s really no benefit from asking them to conceal it,” sophomore Ismail Aijazuddin said. “I think if anything that could lead to more risks, like if someone is incapacitated but [doesn’t] want to show people they’re not feeling well, so it’s probably safer to have an open door policy.”
Although Dinner noted that an open-door policy is ideal, he indicated that next year DSG is going to change its tact given that the administration has not been receptive to officially adopting such a policy.
Although Duke’s written policies are unlikely to change, they are in fact very similar to those used by Stanford and Washington University, said Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students. In practice, Duke also places more of an emphasis on high-risk alcohol consumption.
She added, however, that changing Duke’s written alcohol policy would be dangerous for the students.
“Students would believe there would be no engagement with them unless it was a serious abuse,” Wasiolek said. “We would feel irresponsible if we didn’t address every violation because we want staff to have the opportunity to talk with students about alcohol consumption and any concerns they might have.”
Dinner acknowledged the difficulty for Duke to endorse an official rule that does not align with state law, explaining that instead of pushing to change the official policy, he would like Resident Assistants and Residence Coordinators to be given more flexibility and discretion on how to enforce the rules.
“I know RAs that have been called out for not writing people up enough, and we want less of that downward pressure,” Dinner said. “We want that interaction between students and the people who are supposed to protect them to be facilitated by trust.”
Dinner also expressed concern that certain UCAE rules, such as requiring registration for events a week in advance, has the tendency to push students off campus—a sentiment echoed by students.
“Duke has done a pretty good job so far of policing alcohol, but its biggest flaw is that it over-polices campus, so that a lot of the time or most of the time people have to go off campus to drink,” senior Vaibhav Penukonda said.
Instead of changing these rules, which he said are necessary for administration to do its job successfully, Dinner wants DSG to try and work with student groups and help them navigate through these rules in order to ease any the burdens these rules place upon them.
“Let’s resurrect the on-campus party instead of closed off-campus parties that have forced Duke to backtrack on years of progress with our Durham neighbors,” Dinner wrote in an email.
Wasiolek cautioned against assuming students will flock off-campus in response to Duke’s alcohol policy or UCAE rules.
“If students choose to go off campus, the law follows them,” she said.
Freshmen and alcohol
Incoming freshman are especially at risk for high-risk alcohol consumption during their first semester at Duke, said Tom Szigethy, associate dean and director of the Duke Student Wellness Center.
“For the last two years, in the month of September, out of all the transported students to the hospital, 68 percent of them are freshmen,” he said. “They don’t know how to drink safely right away, so that puts them at risk.”
He identified pregaming as a mistake that freshmen commonly make when they first arrive.
“A lot of first years come to campus and think, ‘Well, we’re underage and on a dry campus,’ and they decide to drink alcohol in their dorm,” Szigethy said. “What they don’t realize is that this exponentially increases their likelihood that they’re going to end up in the hospital.”
Duke is looking to address pregaming and to promote safer alternatives to alcohol on campus, such as on campus dance clubs and concerts, Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs wrote in an email.
Another question for incoming freshmen revolves around the effectiveness of AlcoholEdu, a program criticized for its fading effectiveness over the course of freshman year.
Wasiolek indicated that although AlcoholEdu seems to impact students’ thinking early on, its benefits fade as the semester goes on.
“When we resurvey students later in the fall semester, there are often more students than indicated on AlcoholEdu who have engaged in the consumption of alcohol or a less responsible level of alcohol consumption,” Wasiolek said.
In response to those concerns, Szigethy advocated for a more collaborative campus community in which upperclassmen help freshmen make safer decisions regarding their alcohol use.
“Each year during the spring semester we have a couple of seniors coming in saying they want to change Duke culture, but it’s always a month before graduation so they don’t have time to actually do it,” he said.
Duke is moving in the right direction, Szigethy noted, citing an increase in the number of students being brought in to DUWELL to be tested for alcohol poisoning and a decrease in the number of students being transported to the hospital during the past semester as evidence that trust is increasing among the student body.
Ultimately, he said he wants more upperclassmen to step into the role of mentor for incoming freshman so they can learn from upperclassmen’s experiences.
“We watch out for each other and we shape our community,” Szigethy said.