Taking Sides: Should Brown be tougher on student consumption of drugs and alcohol?

By and
Opinions Columnist and Opinions Editor
Friday, March 8, 2013

Romero ’14: Yes

During my first year at Brown, I remember an upperclassman friend of mine telling me one of his crazy weed stories. He told me that he and his suitemate smoked marijuana almost every day, even once getting caught by the Department of Public Safety. The DPS officer caught my friend’s friend in the act of rolling a blunt and punished him severely by … quietly telling him to put it away. Flash forward one year, and I’m living in a fraternity building via summer assignment after having lived on a substance-free floor for my first year. After the first night of the brothers playing beer pong in the hallways, I learned that the only people who cared about overconsumption of alcohol within dorms were the custodians who had to clean up the mess the next morning.

Brown should be tougher on drugs and alcohol. Brown spaces — especially public spaces — should be safe and free from intoxicated belligerence. When I say “public spaces,” I am including dorms because they are student communities where residents live, sometimes not even by choice, as in the case of summer assignment.

There is a notion that drinking often and doing drugs are just signs of Brown’s famous liberalism. I love the freedom the University affords. But there are better places to consume drugs and alcohol than in public, where doing so has the real potential to be disruptive. As someone who had to step over cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon to enter the dorm’s communal bathroom while inhaling enough second-hand marijuana smoke to nearly become high myself, I think that Brown should be stricter in its drug policies.

Regulating illegal alcohol and drug use is not only sensible but also a sound way to keep our privilege in check. Consuming alcohol at Brown is almost always conspicuous, and there is always someone being excluded from the drunken fun. Many Brown students don’t have the funds to go to the Graduate Center Bar every night or the money to support an expensive weed-smoking hobby. Most of us just want to study those extra two hours at night to do well on midterms. Most of us can’t remember the last time we went to sleep before Morning Mail appeared in our inboxes.

I would suggest Brown adopt a policy against overconsumption — it doesn’t have to be as complex as figuring out a meal plan or as simple as an expulsion after the first time getting caught with a dime sack. Three strikes and you get a disciplinary meeting with a dean. It’s at least worth a test run. People can have fun at Brown, sure, but our current drug-induced, endless mirth needs stricter boundaries.

David Romero ‘14 would, at the expense of sounding like a crotchety old man, encourage students to consume alcohol and drugs more sensibly.


Brundage ’15: No

At Brown, should you choose to drink before age 21 or experiment with drugs like marijuana, you can at least be sure the University will still value you as a member of the community. You will be given access to educational tools so that you can learn about the real risks and harms associated with drugs and alcohol, as opposed to relying on government tools that equate marijuana with heroin in terms of potential for abuse. Let’s not take this for granted.

Contrast this policy with that of many other universities, where such mistakes designate a student not as valuable, but rather as expendable to the community. A friend of mine was given a one-year suspension from her university and was required to reapply when authorities found alcohol and a small amount of marijuana in her dorm room.

Another extraordinary cornerstone of Brown’s drug and alcohol policy is maintaining the role of Residential Counselors as peers whose primary concern is the safety of their hallmates. Residential advisers at other universities tend to be feared and often loathed by students who choose to drink during their first semesters in college. This does not establish healthy relationships in which students can approach their residential advisers with problems, particularly if a conflict occurred while the student was intoxicated or even just surrounded by others who chose to drink or smoke.

In order to be tougher on drugs and alcohol, Brown would have to be softer on safety. Since Brown has always made it clear to us that the safety of the student body is the primary concern of the University, students do not fear communicating with authorities, coming to Residential Counselors with problems or calling Emergency Medical Services if they are concerned that a friend has endangered him or herself while intoxicated. They can be sure in the latter case that neither the caller nor the victim will be disciplined — only educated and assisted. These successful policies even served as a positive model for the state, which recently passed the Good Samaritan Law. This legislation eliminates the conflict of interest with the law associated with calling for help if a person has overdosed on drugs.

Brown’s drug and alcohol policies establish a community of trust, not fear. We must continue to support this trusting community and even push harder for safety measures like better access to food, water and equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages at events like Spring Weekend and fraternity parties. Lastly, if we are serious about rejecting the War on Drugs — specifically its attack on minority communities and its utter failure to curb drug usage or addiction rates — then we must continue to reject its principles at Brown.

Matt Brundage ’15 wants to keep the battleground of the War on Drugs off the Main Green.


Romero’s Rebuttal:

My colleague is correct in stating that a university should still value a student who chooses to maintain a benign habit of consuming alcohol or drugs. The only problem is that many drinking and smoking habits are not benign but rather endanger both students and public spaces.

I disagree with the notion that “to be tougher on drugs and alcohol, Brown would have to be softer on safety.” My opponent writes that the safety of students consuming drugs is important. This is true, but another point that is not usually considered is the safety of those students not consuming drugs within the vicinity of those who are. If you have ever been on a late-night Josiah’s dinner outing on the weekend, you can safely say that it’s not the sober people for whom you must watch out.

Returning now to the drunken debauchery that takes place in public spaces at Brown: Have you ever seen Jo’s after it is raided by drunken party-goers?  Have you seen what the Main Green looks like after Spring Weekend? These and other public spaces suffer litter and abuse, in large part due to alcohol and drug consumers who are too intoxicated to respect University facilities. We must remember that overprivileged drunk students will never be asked to clean messy dining halls or pick up all the leftovers of their pizza on the Main Green. Instead, this will be the responsibility of Facilities Management workers who will have to do extra work to clean up the disgusting and disgraceful mess people left behind because they were too drunk to care.

I agree that students who drink alcohol or consume other drugs should not be ostracized or severely punished by the University. But I do believe our current system of always looking the other way can be harmful for students who do not consume drugs or alcohol and for Facilities Management workers who are shamefully abused by inebriated students. By ignoring the fact that many Brown students may have serious overconsumption problems, we encourage their unsafe habits and allow them to endanger themselves, other students and public spaces.


Brundage’s Rebuttal:

It is hard to say precisely why I disagree with Romero, because he gives only a vague suggestion for changing drug and alcohol policy at Brown. But to address Romero’s concerns about beer pong in the hallways, it is already Brown’s policy to send in Department of Public Safety officers to break up these sorts of events if students complain. It is also the policy of the University to have a dean determine whether these students need “appropriate alcohol education, evaluation and/or treatment.”

It concerns me that Romero apparently thinks so little of the large student population that chooses to drink. I am particularly offended by his conflation of participating in a weekend beer pong game and not being studious. It is an entirely subjective judgment that does not justify a policy change.

Romero has a point that there is conflict between students who choose to drink and those who do not, but I believe a big part of the answer to such a problem is better communication between these two groups. The shaming of the former is absolutely counterproductive to the ultimate goal of a safer, happier dorm community. He is right that excessive drinking activities can ultimately burden students studying for midterms, but I have never witnessed a student being rejected when asking others to keep it down because he or she is studying.

Concerning the remarks about checking our privilege, substance prohibition has a dark history of marginalizing and incarcerating the underprivileged members of American society, which I find significantly more disturbing than participation in an activity that may be too expensive for some. Certainly this would not be the direct effect of harsher punishment for drinking and smoking at Brown, but I do believe that the University serves as something of a social policy role model. For Brown to legitimize the standards of the War on Drugs would be shameful.

I believe the hardships associated with troubling experiences like having to “step over cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon” are an acceptable cost given the benefits of community trust and harm reduction that are, in my view, the soul of Brown’s drug and alcohol policy.

  • Regular BDH reader.

    Having read several of his columns, I can safely say that only Mr. Romero could seriously frame consuming PBR as an act of privilege.

    • Grad-Student

      Romero didn’t say that drinking PBR is equated to an act of privilege but rather is reminding the reader that there are economic disparities among the Brown population. While it may be taboo to discuss class or material conditions amongst students, it still does not deny their reality. This is not to deny people’s right to drink PBR or their drink of choice. Instead, it should open the door to further discussion on class, race and gender issues (which may be the overall point of Romero’s other articles that you cite).

  • ’09

    You can punish students for fighting or littering without punishing students for boozing. Plenty of people go to Jo’s drunk and don’t cause any problems or clean up after themselves.

    • Grad-Student

      I don’t think either writer is arguing for harsher punishments, but rather for punishments for those who act outside the bounds of respectable behavior. Brown students have the right to drink and smoke with no major consequences, but that does not give them a right to act like asses. To clarify, this is not making a sweeping generalization of people who drink and smoke, but rather something must be done to prevent those students who do cause problems and don’t clean up after themselves. Why should someone at Facilities Management clean up for a crazy night?

  • BH

    My school had a pretty strict alcohol policy, Certainly several levels stricter than anything at Brown. Students were disciplined for alcohol all the time, and ARRESTED for weed. RAs made a sweep of the buildings once every hour from 8 till 2am on the weekends, and if parties got out of hand would break them up and document underage drinkers for later discipline.

    Any one of those policies, instated at Brown, would result in protests that would make Occupy Wall Street look like a Boy Scout jamboree.

    That all being said, there were NO punishments handed out if a call was made for medical assistance. So it IS possible to have both, hand-wringing to the contrary. You wouldn’t even need to go as far as schools like mine went.

  • doink

    You guys talk over the heads of Brown University non-academic deans. They are quite stupid, and wouldn’t understand either of you. In fact, they do not understand anything they themselves do (which do not come to much anyway.)

  • Grad-student

    Brundage just misses the point. He is arguing with a straw man (the
    specter of the War on Drugs) instead of with Romero’s point : how can we
    help curve some of the destructive behavior that is the outcome of drunken debauchery? He criticizes Romero for not offering any solutions to this problem (a fair point) but instead of
    addressing the issue himself, he decides to make an inaccurate
    characterization of Romero’s discussion on those who party and drink.
    Nowhere does Romero state that those who party never study. Neither does
    he condemn the practice of drinking and smoking. In fact, Romero goes
    as far as applauding Brown for their progressive views on this issue.
    However, there is the problem of the destructive acts that do arise from
    it that cannot go unnoticed or unpunished. It is not the act of
    drinking and smoking that warrant punishment but rather the violation of
    other rules that would otherwise be unacceptable. Brundage must address
    this point before being “offended” by his wrongful interpretation of
    Romero or his accusation that Romero somehow conflates partying with not
    being studious, which he never does. Instead of imposing an argument
    that is easy to knock down on Romero, he should address the issue that
    Romero is attempting to address.

  • TheRationale

    Your right to shenanigans ends when it starts coming at a cost to someone else.

    You break exit signs? You pay for them.
    You make a mess? You clean it up or pay someone else to – and no that’s not covered by facilities.
    You smoke weed/cigarettes? Do it where it doesn’t stink up the hallways.

    Those responsible people at Brown who don’t generate these stupid costs end up having to pay for them anyway because Brown has an extreme phobia to discipline and personal responsibility. Many of these entitled students don’t really want freedom, because that entails personal responsibility – they just want freedom from consequences.