Thomas ’15: Cheers to Brown’s policies from a newcomer

Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This December my fellow first semester freshmen and I returned home to a flurry of college experience comparisons among old high school friends. Of all the comments and the bragging, one phrase consistently resurfaced: “I forgot that drinking was illegal!”

This remark occasionally puzzles adults who overhear, but given the lax alcohol and drug use policies often employed by universities, the lapse of memory is not so surprising.

Quoting from the University’s website, Brown’s alcohol and other drug policy “emphasizes individual and shared responsibility, healthy and informed decision-making, the maintenance of a caring environment and the promotion of genuine dialogue.” The tone here is not strict or condemning of drinking and drug use. While the language of the actual policy seems regulatory, in general there is a feeling of trust and acceptance on campus, with a loose control of substance use.

Policies such as Brown’s have historically been called into question by those fixated upon “University-condoned drinking.” These concerns have a legitimate question behind them: How can a well-established institution of higher education justify such an apparently flagrant disregard for the law?

But with just a glimpse into the partying habits of college students, it would appear that calls for a crackdown in policies do not account for the realities of drinking on campus.

Stricter rules or increased supervision by police cannot be used by universities to stomp out illegal drinking in its entirety. The culture is too embedded, and there are enough ways to slip through the cracks of law enforcement. A school can, however, use these tools to control, or seek to control, where students are drinking.

This September I was asked by my residential peer counselor at our first unit meeting to just not drink in common spaces like the stairs. This was part of a tacit agreement that drinking was tolerable in rooms as long as the activity did not disturb others.

At other schools this is not the case. Residential advisers are quick to report drinking in residence halls due to the more open condemnation of alcohol consumption by the administration.

The result is not necessarily a decrease in drinking overall, but rather a rearrangement of the geography of consumption. Namely, drinking is pushed into frats and other off-campus locations beyond the reach of school security. In addition to leading to more dangerous drinking methods — such as binge-drinking — this incites a loss of agency in drinking as younger students rely on older ones for alcohol.

Not to mention a newfound sense of paranoia that would permeate the campus party scene. Rather than having any chance of normalizing drinking or allowing students to drink in a responsible manner, the administration would be labeling the activity deviant.

So what would be the point then? To save face with the outside world? It is important to consider here the priorities of the institution. 

Cracking down on drinking would not only result in increases in rates of alcohol-related arrests on campus, but would also dramatically affect the relationship of trust and respect that students have with the administration. Such a situation is currently taking place at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Trinity students recently received an email from the college’s Dean of Students outlining changes that will be made to the social host policy and alcohol control policy. Changes include limits on numbers of people attending events, an increase in confrontations for public open containers and more. 

Students, concerned for the quality of the party scene at their school and outraged at this move by the administration, have in retaliation created a Facebook event to organize their protesting. A post on the student-run blog, In The ‘Cac, about the announcement entitled “A ‘New Era of Puritanism’ At Trinity College” summarizes the disapproval of students. 

It’s true that if a university administration bent itself to every will of the student body, colleges might experiencea a decrease in academic quality — college is great except for the classes, right? But having an administration that respects a student’s ability to grow through personal decision-making is vital to the kind of individual development that colleges seek to foster.

That is what is so beneficial about Brown’s policy. We are (almost) free as Brown students to try, learn and try again. Whether or not conservative commentators snub our methods is not what concerns us. And it is definitely not what fuels change on our campus.



Leigh Thomas ’15 is from New York. She can be contacted at