Editorial: Drying out campus

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, and Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, sent out an email to students two weeks ago detailing the University’s response to the complaints of two students who, while at Sears House Oct. 17, were allegedly drugged. One of the students also reported being sexually assaulted. The email stated that the University intends to hone its alcohol policy to protect students and punish offenders. In the meantime, it has suspended the organization that hosted the event, and warns other organizations that any infraction of the alcohol policy would certainly result in suspension.

This turn of events begs the ever-pressing question: What role does the University have in regulating the behavior of student groups, especially when student group interests are pitted against the risk of harm befalling other students? It is clear, and the University reiterates, that students deserve a safe environment to learn and cohabitate, and that both date rape and drugging are impermissible under any circumstances. There are a few ways the University could achieve this goal.

Since the culture of college parties ostensibly creates a risk of harm, particularly with respect to drinking, perhaps the best amendment the University could make to college parties would be to dry them out — to make alcohol impermissible at parties, regardless of function or group type — for some reasonable amount of time.

While this first course of action is cut and dry, it preserves almost all of the autonomy (and the existence) of the social groups on campus. Parties, of all types, could still happen, and drinks and food could still be served under the strictures placed by the Undergraduate Council of Students, which are relatively prescriptive. This strategy would further the fight against sexual assault by subtly limiting the amount of alcohol students consume, and it would make any date-rape drugs in drinks blatantly obvious.

Pomona College enacts a similar policy, called “Substance Free Opening”: For the first two weeks of every school year, the Pomona campus is alcohol-free. Of course, infractions do persist, but this policy is thought to significantly reduce the amount of sexual assault on campus, especially as many sexual assaults befall incoming first-years during their first few weeks of school.

The policy need not be so firm. Perhaps the University could limit the Class F designation, which is given to parties that serve alcohol, to events whose main focus is not the party itself — fundraisers, improv shows and live music during student group-sponsored parties that might be called “mixers.” It could also mandate EMS presence at parties, the way it does at Spring Weekend and formerly at Sex Power God.

Drying out parties for a period of time could, however, drive people to drink in settings that are harder to moderate, like their dorms or off-campus parties. To minimize this shift while still tightening the faucet at campus events, the University might choose to get actively involved in supplying alcohol at parties. It could mandate that drinks be sold and a meticulous sales record be kept — maybe even tying Banner IDs to sales. Cost would set a fiscal constraint on party drinking.

The drinks could even be distributed by a third party, a professional bartender hired for an event who opens or makes the drinks and checks IDs. This would certainly cost more, and limit the number of student parties, yet it would make drugging harder. Or Brown itself could, like Syracuse University, obtain a liquor license and sell alcohol to students at parties with independent bartenders who would card and make drinks themselves.

However, these interventions, unlike dry parties, are intrusive, bureaucratic and expensive, and they still leave some risk of abuse of alcohol and date-rape drugging. And, by their very nature, they would also push some people to drink in spaces further removed from campus and monitoring. There are costs to all these approaches, and perhaps the one that promotes the greatest change to the culture of Greek parties would be to dry them out for a fixed period of time, to underscore the need for a more responsible and self-aware community at Brown.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.


  1. Sam Alonquin says:

    According to this editorial, alcohol turns some otherwise good citizens into criminals. By deduction then, no alcohol on Brown campus, then no more criminals on Brown campus. By deduction also, Brown could eliminate rapes on campus by eliminating (or systematically controlling) alcohol availability on campus. There is a simpler point of view, and a simpler corresponding solution. Criminals are criminals regardless of alcohol use. Make crimes pay (instead of making alcohol pay), by Brown University facilitating swift access to parties involved by Providence PD and prosecutors. In addition to criminal and civil penalties meted out by the court, Brown should expel the criminals. Make the expulsion public. Put the crimes and the expulsion permanently on the criminals’ Brown University transcripts. Insist on giving all the contents of the transcripts to any college, grad school, and prospective employer. But of course, Brown University will do no such thing. It is not even doing as suggested in the editorial above. Instead, Chris Paxson & Co appoints committees ad absurdum, doe not act, will never act. Reason: Chris Paxson & Co has much sympathy for rapists, and fears the impact of publicity on alum donations to Brown University, and fears the impact of publicity and any resultant reduction of donation on their own jobs. In other words, the people who are administering Brown have decided long ago to damn rape victims on campus, and to do so for very selfish and personal reasons. So, BDH editors, you must realize that Chris Paxson will not heed well intended suggestions by anyone, including you. Your focus and energy could be deployed more effectively then to call Chris Paxson for what she is, than to offer your analysis about alcohol.

  2. “the University might choose to get actively involved in supplying alcohol at parties.”

    This would make the university much more liable for what happened at the parties – this would literally never happen.

    This whole article is extremely misguided. All any of these policies would do is shift partying off campus (many of these orgs you’re trying to limit have pockets of students living together off campus already) where it’s far less regulated.

  3. Concerned Student '15 says:

    Among other issues, the current party regulations practically guarantee that registered parties will remain unprofitable in the near future. I might favor more support services (e.g., EMS presence or third-party bartender) if the costs are not put onto the organizations who host parties. Remember 2011? There was a Greek party practically every weekend. This fall? Practically none–that are registered. It’s worth noting that the allegations at Phi Psi occurred at an unregistered party. Could something like that happen in a more controlled environment? Perhaps, but the chance would be way lower.

    As I see it, the problem right now is that the university has consistently decided to absolve itself of liability over the safety of students. By propping the cost of the yellow jackets onto organizations, for example, they’ve just made sure that parties happen off-campus. An effective regulatory environment acknowledges behavior that will exist whatever they do and will focus on mitigating risk, not on keeping students from drinking.

    • Reality Check says:

      I might favor more support services (e.g., EMS presence or third-party bartender) if the costs are not put onto the organizations who host parties.

      Why not? If you want to hold an event that is so high-risk that it needs safety resources standing by, why should anyone else pay for it?

      • The argument is that the parties are going to happen regardless so would you rather: a) the university pays for security/EMS to be at registered parties or b) the university doesn’t pay so groups don’t register their parties

        • Reality Check says:

          So wait- the slippery slope argument is ok to use now?

          • It’s not a slippery slope argument if the data exists to support the idea that college students will drink and party regardless of what the rules are and that if the goal is SAFETY that the more accepting the school is the better: http://responsibility.org/sites/default/files/files/Fisher-College-Research-Report.pdf (page 37 specifically mentions how dry campuses just push things off campus), http://time.com/77808/university-of-kentucky-alcohol-policy-changing/ “The safest place to drink on campus would be public, school-sponsored events, because in public, students better monitor each other’s behavior and social cues prevent students from drinking too much, Haines said.” (http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2013/09/06/admins-work-to-combat-risks-of-college-drinking/).

            Therefore it’s not a slippery slope to say that requiring groups to pay for support services at registered parties increases the chance that they will simply throw unregistered parties instead.

            Much like yale, I bet the majority of drinking at Brown happens not at big parties but at the pre-games before them. Back in 06-07 when the university stopped allowing registered parties to be $5 entry with free drinks and instead mandated that we charge money per drink (“the 311 rule”, $3 cover, $1 for 1 drink), it was noticeable that people came to the parties drunker than before. Even at the very cheap $1/drink price, having your own alcohol in your room beforehand was cheaper. In fact if you look back in the BDH around that time – you can see others felt that way too: http://www.browndailyherald.com/2006/04/26/michael-morgenstern-08-new-alcohol-policies-backfire/ http://www.browndailyherald.com/2007/01/19/recommended-alcohol-policies-get-mixed-reviews/ SPG – an event which serves no alcohol – routinely bumped the EMS count. Brown concluded a really big problem was small unregistered events in dorms http://www.browndailyherald.com/2006/09/14/alcohol-report-addresses-education-orientation/ It’s really, really, not a stretch to say the parties and drinking will happen regardless of the rules and that students don’t shy away from throwing/attending unregistered events. The best plans are going to involve making registered events as little a burden as possible (compared to an unregistered event).

            Most frat parties around the country occur off campus and are riddled with many more safety issues than Brown’s because of how comparatively lenient our policies are.

            Much like the success of the free condom movement for STIs. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/prevention/programs/condoms/ and the failure of abstinence only sex education http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0024658 alcohol policies that acknowledge the fact that college students will drink regardless are going to be more successful.

          • Reality Check says:

            Interesting that you bring up SPG- an event which, you rightly point out, has produced a very high number of EMS calls. The difference is, the host organization paid the tab for the services that were on-site as a result. I never saw any suggestion from QA that they would move the event off campus because of the cost. And believe me- their cost far exceeded anything a frat would have to put up.

            I also disagree that the difference in frat-generated problems is because of lenient policies. It’s far simpler than that. If you notice, the off-campus events you refer to are off-campus- and therefore beyond the school’s ability to regulate them- because that’s where the frats are. IE, completely separated from the university. At Brown, as you know, fraternities are not only on-campus, they are housed in University buildings. The difference in regulation is therefore 100%- some versus none. Wouldn’t even matter how lenient our policies are, because there ARE policies. (I don’t know enough about the Greek history at Brown to know if that happened by accident or by shrewd foresight by the administrators of the day.)

            The University is in a no-win situation regardless of what it does. Crack own on unregistered events, and they may move off-campus- better from a liability standpoint, because Brown can’t be responsible for something it didn’t have any part of, but worse for the potential outcomes. Regulate the registered events and provide University-paid resources, and the liabilities are significant because there is no perfect degree of safety where people and alcohol are involved. No matter what the plan is, a plaintiff’s attorney will say it wasn’t enough.

            Regulate the Class Fs too much, and then they become unregistered events, which sends us back to the beginning.

          • You’re right, there is no perfect solution – but if safety is your goal, it’s clear that keeping people on campus at events with support staff is best. A dry campus is the exact opposite.

            SPG’s costs are not as high as you think – they have no alcohol to purchase (which also means no non alcoholic drinks or food to purchase as well as cups, ice, bracelets etc) and back in my day, they charged $20+/ticket in contrast to frats which were 5 my freshman year and 3 every year beyond.

            Wriston quad and on campus frats was a deliberate move by the university to address this exact issue. They wanted more oversight and they wanted the groups on campus so they literally built Wriston for them and bought all the properties they owned to facilitate the move (e.g. the classics department is the former Zeta Psi house). This is why the ratty is on wriston and the tunnels and private rooms exist. The whole thing was about getting the frats on campus.(http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/Databases/Encyclopedia/search.php?serial=F0270)

            Houses where frats are off campus don’t fall under 0% regulation. At many universities, campus regulations extend to off campus housing and at even more campuses, student groups that want university recognition must follow the rules regardless of their location. In greek houses there is often an issue of whether the event was “sponsored by the org” or just “a group of students” because if it was “sponsored by the org” then it’s subject to university policy whereas if it isn’t, then it’s not.

          • freedomhasvalue says:

            The Class F rule was originally adopted in the early 1990s, when a few drunk students at other US schools died from various acts of alcohol-related stupidity, and universities across the country faced significant increases in liability insurance costs. Alcohol consumption on campus, and the bad choices that can go with it, didn’t change as a result of the additional regulation. Anyone who thinks alcohol is regulated on campus out of a concern for students’ safety is kidding themselves. It’s not that the university administration doesn’t care, it’s that their policies are designed to control what the administration is actually capable of controlling (insurance premiums and liability risk, not student behavior).

  4. RebeccaCityofLadies says:

    You’re the editorial board, stop using “begging the question” wrong

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