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No Hard Alcohol, No Pledging: Dartmouth Plans Major Cultural Reforms

Washington Post
By Nick Anderson

Dartmouth College will prohibit all students, regardless of age, from drinking or possessing hard alcohol on campus and will create a new network of residential communities for student social life in a effort to rid the school of what its president calls “extreme behaviors.”

The plan — a major cultural transformation of the campus, announced in a speech Thursday morning by Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon — culminates several months of soul-searching at the private Ivy League college in New Hampshire, a process akin to recent reviews at the University of Virginia and numerous other schools around the country. In April, Hanlon challenged students, faculty and alumni to brainstorm what Dartmouth should do to combat sexual assault, dangerous drinking and other problems at a relatively isolated school with a hard-partying reputation.

The college last year overhauled how it polices sexual misconduct, with new rules that call for rigorous investigations when an assault is reported and mandatory expulsion of students found responsible in the most egregious offenses. In addition, Hanlon said, fraternities and sororities have embarked voluntarily on major reforms, including an end to the custom of requiring new members to undergo a probationary period as “pledges.” That is meant to quell the abuses of hazing rituals.

Now Hanlon wants the college to crack down on abuse of alcohol, specifically on consumption of alcoholic beverages of 30 proof or higher.

“The evidence is clear: Hard alcohol is posing a serious threat to the health and safety of our campus,” Hanlon said in a prepared speech he planned to deliver Thursday morning on the campus in Hanover. Most of the time when alcohol causes a medical problem, he said, “it is hard alcohol — rather than just beer or wine — that lands students on a hospital gurney.”

Hanlon continued: “We do not need hard alcohol at Dartmouth. In fact, many students have suggested it shouldn’t be here. Beginning today, Dartmouth will take a lead among colleges in dealing with hard alcohol on campus. Hard alcohol will not be served at events open to the public — whether the event is sponsored by the college or by student organizations. Penalties for students found in possession of hard alcohol will ramp up. And so will penalties for those who purchase and provide any alcohol to minors.”

A fact sheet the college prepared for a plan called “Moving Dartmouth Forward” included an explicit prohibition for students on possession or consumption of hard alcohol on campus — “including those over the legal drinking age” of 21. The provision is stricter than new rules for drinking at fraternity parties that U-Va. announced this month as part of a series of safety measures in response to a now-discredited story in Rolling Stone magazine about an alleged gang rape at the public university in Charlottesville.

The U-Va. rules prohibit serving mixed alcoholic drinks and punches at fraternity parties, emphasizing instead beer and wine. But they allow hard liquor to be served at large events if a fraternity hires a bartender through a company with a state license, or at smaller events if bottles are placed at a bar overseen by a sober fraternity member who is monitoring the event.

There is an assumption in such policies that some form of underage drinking is an inevitable part of the college experience, and that the wisest course is to try to regulate it rather than end it. Nationwide, colleges and universities face enormous challenges reining in student drinking. The Chronicle of Higher Education last fall documented the issue in a report headlined “A River of Booze.”

Dartmouth officials say dangerous drinking on their campus has declined in recent years. They point to data that show incidents of extreme intoxication —  involving students whose blood alcohol concentration is above .25 — have fallen sharply. There were seven such incidents in fall 2013, according to a college health program, down from 36 three years earlier. But Dartmouth wants to eliminate the problem.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, Hanlon said his goal is a college “where students are 24/7 learners, where intellectual growth occurs outside the classroom as much as inside the classroom.” To that end, he said, Dartmouth will create a new system of residential communities to take effect for freshmen who enter next fall. Hanlon called it “probably the most transformative item” in the college’s reform plan.