Recommended alcohol policies get mixed reviews

Friday, January 19, 2007

In the wake of a broad review of the University’s social events and alcohol policies, fraternity leaders have had mixed responses to new policies – especially the new per-drink charge.

After last November’s Sex Power God party and an altercation on the Main Green the night before that ended with shots being fired, then-Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services David Greene, who stepped down in August, created an ad hoc committee to review social events policies and asked the existing Campus Life Advisory Board Subcommittee on Alcohol and Other Drugs to reconsider the University’s alcohol policies. The ad hoc committee on social events completed its work last March, and the alcohol subcommittee submitted its report in August.

“The vast majority of problems and concerns on campus are alcohol related,” the alcohol subcommittee’s report said.

Recommendations included increasing the minimum price per drink at parties, prohibiting re-entry into social events, keeping a log at each party of how many drinks a person has consumed and requiring further training for party organizers, including state certification for bartenders.

According to some fraternity leaders, their organizations have already implemented many of the committee’s recommendations, notably, the per-drink charge, which has become routine procedure for party organizers.

Nathan Duckles ’08, social chair of Alpha Delta Phi, a co-ed literary fraternity, said his house already has people at the door who know how to recognize the four stages of intoxication and will stop intoxicated students from entering. He added that other recommendations – such as making non-alcoholic drinks available and having roaming managers at parties – are also already standard practice.

No such thing as a free drink

One recommendation that ADPhi and other program houses have already implemented is a per-drink charge, which replaces a flat cover fee.

“Charging per drink does reduce drinking significantly,” Duckles said. He added that it makes more sense both financially and organizationally for ADPhi to charge per drink because “we end up with as much money and fewer people get drunk.”

Other fraternities, however, have been more reluctant to shift away from a flat cover fee. “The problem with charging per drink is that it encourages the mentality of wanting to drink beforehand,” said Michael Kern ’07, president of Phi Kappa Psi.

Duckles is skeptical that the report’s recommendation to increase the per-drink price will result in lower alcohol consumption. “$1 per drink is the maximum that will work in a party environment,” he said. Though a per-drink charge helps to regulate drinking, it is unrealistic to expect people to pay more for beer or punch, he said. “If they did increase it, people will pre-game,” he added.

Other Greek Houses have also noticed the same phenomenon. “Increasingly, more drunk people are showing up at our door,” said North Whipple ’08, social chair of Greek Council and a member of Sigma Chi.

Though the report recommends that a per-drink charge become mandatory, it is still possible to throw a party with just a cover fee under existing policies.

According to “Social Function Planning and Management Procedures,” a Student Activities Office document detailing the current alcohol policies, party organizers are “strongly discouraged from adopting a fee structure that does not have a per drink charge.” While this does not explicitly ban charging flat fees at parties, Ricky Gresh, director of the SAO, said organizations wishing to do so “would have to make a strong argument” to the SAO in order to avoid the per-drink charge. He added that there has been one such request so far, but he did not say whether it was approved.

Stopping pre-gaming

One concern that fraternity leaders have with the per-drink charge is that more students are coming to parties already intoxicated. “At our ‘Get Lucky’ party in September, a student had to be (taken by Emergency Medical Services) out of our line. That has never happened before,” Kern said.

Though organizers in charge of security at the door of fraternity and program house parties are required to refuse entry to obviously intoxicated individuals, it is often hard to judge someone’s sobriety until they are already inside, Kern said.

In addition, Kern said increased drinking before entering the party makes it harder for organizers to keep track of how much alcohol each guest has consumed, he added.

Gresh, however, said he doubts a per-drink charge would make it harder for the organizers to track consumption. When there is an exchange of money a bartender has a chance to remember faces, as opposed to just handing out drinks, he said.

Nancy Barnett, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and co-chair of the subcommittee, pointed to the economics of a per-drink charge as deterring consumption.

“The more something costs, the less people consume of it,” she said.

Barnett added that the per-drink policy is part of a larger effort aimed at changing students’ attitude toward drinking.

Simply regulating alcohol consumption within a party is placing the issue in a vacuum, Barnett said. She added that she thinks the problem of pre-gaming and excessive drinking cannot be solved with one specific policy. “It really has to be a cultural shift,” she said.

Part of that potential shift was outlined in the March report of the ad hoc committee that reviewed social events in the wake of Sex Power God. It recommends more extensive monitoring of residence halls between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. – what the report identifies as “key time for pre-gaming.” Other suggestions in the report include hiring professional security personnel to regulate admittance to events, a stamp-per-drink policy and earlier starting hours for events serving alcohol.

“We have tried to make decisions about what is reasonable and also fits with Brown’s philosophy,” Barnett said.

Managing large parties

University administrators and student organizers have had a successful history of working together to adhere to fire safety regulations. Overcrowding in residence hall lounges has been avoided by using University buildings, such as Sayles Hall, Leung Gallery in Faunce House and the Crystal Room in Alumnae Hall.

In fall 2004, fire code concerns following the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick forced most large on-campus parties to move out of residence hall lounges. Those restrictions were loosened after that semester, giving party organizers the option of using either program house lounges or other campus spaces.

Today, a flexible agreement has been reached in which decisions on the location of events depend on the type of event and the intentions of the organizers. “It is good to see that the administration has faith in us,” said Leland Franklin ’08, a member of Phi Kappa Psi and vice chair of Greek Council.

This agreement has allowed large parties to easily switch venues. For example, Lush Life, an ADPhi party held on Sept. 22, was originally planned to be held in Goddard House but was moved to the Crystal Room in Alumnae Hall because organizers felt that attendance would exceed 125. Around 300 people attended the party.

Duckles said support from professional security guards and a Department of Public Safety officer helped the party function smoothly. But not all houses can cover the cost of these security services. Many program houses sometimes limit the size of their events and hold them in their own lounges to avoid having to pay for security and custodial service. For Lush Life, these expenses amounted to about $75 per hour, Duckles said.

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