Corvese ’15: Prohibition at Brown? We’ll see

Opinions Columnist
Thursday, February 5, 2015

Some students reacted to the University’s recent announcement that alcohol is prohibited at large-scale parties in residential spaces as if the administration had resurrected the Eighteenth Amendment.

The immediate reaction was laughable. In a recent Herald article gauging campus reactions to the news (“Undergrads question new alcohol policy,” Jan. 22), one student interviewed likened the policy to “Prohibition.” And while the Herald Editorial Board’s recent headline (“Will Prohibition work at Brown?”, Jan. 21) effectively catches readers’ eyes, it is excessively dramatic. Administrators probably rolled their eyes at the overreactions as well, prompting the Office of Campus Life and Student Services to send a Jan. 30 email to all students clarifying the policy, which essentially stated, “Don’t worry, your precious, crowded dorm room parties are safe!”

The policy, which is far from Prohibition, is not necessarily a bad one. Limiting the potential for unwanted sexual contact or unhealthy drinking is an excellent goal — something any student who has been uncomfortably touched in a sweaty, Natty-filled basement can attest to. Much to the disdain of underclassmen, frat parties will take a hit. Though given Brown’s vibrant and diverse party scene, the frat parties are probably where the rule’s effects will end.

A scenario more akin to Prohibition is unfolding at Dartmouth, where President Phil Hanlon recently announced a campus ban on hard liquor — even for students who can possess it legally. Some experts expressed doubts about the efficacy of such a ban. David Hanson, an expert on alcohol policy on college campuses and professor emeritus of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam, expressed that there is “little logic in banning hard alcohol without banning all alcohol,” the Dartmouth reported.

A ban like Dartmouth’s could be effective in decreasing incidents of alcohol-fueled hazing or hospitalizations. Yet though it may take longer to chug a beer than it does to take a shot, college party scenes are exhilarating yet temporary parts of life that take more than a ban on one type of booze to disrupt. Many college students want to take full advantage of their four years on campus, so they are going to get drunk.

Brown and Dartmouth’s new alcohol policies aren’t like Prohibition’s moral panic. They are responses to violent campus incidents, including binge drinking incidents at Dartmouth. Imperfect as the restrictions and bans may be, they are somewhat commendable moves on the administrations’ part. But a less commendable consequence is the conflation of alcohol with reports of sexual assault and harassment. Alcohol does not cause sexual assault.

Yet like the Brown administration, I don’t have the solution to stopping sexual assault. Despite a gradual, uplifting shift in national dialogue from “don’t get raped” to “don’t rape,” rape still happens. While I, like many students, would love to see President Christina Paxson P’19 on the Main Green waving a flag reading “Destroy rape culture!”, dismantling those deeply ingrained cultural values that make campuses unsafe isn’t that easy. Brown’s soft ban is not the most pleasing policy move, nor is it the end of our combat against sexual assault. But at least Brown is doing something.

The ban is not infallible. It is impossible to develop reasonable policies that prevent drinking outside of a supervised setting — everything from pregames to off-campus parties — where the crimes Brown is trying to prevent can occur just as easily or even at higher rates post-ban. Indeed, a survey of more than 11,000 American college student drinkers conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that “extreme drinking” occurred with the same frequency, regardless of whether or not students attended a school that bans alcohol. So while the new rules at Brown and Dartmouth might cut some dangerous drinking, their value as more than a smart public relations move after a tidal wave of campus controversies is yet to be determined.

Possible incentives for implementing the policy beyond fighting sexual assault also raise some questions. While the move restricts frats from throwing parties in their on-campus houses, there’s no Department of Public Safety officer around at their off-campus soirees. Fraternities thus have one less potential liability to worry about. Save for Brown’s sanctions against Phi Kappa Psi and Sigma Chi, the notion that college administrators want to protect the interests of established frats is no outlandish conspiracy theory.

At the end of this semester, University administrators will ideally evaluate the policy’s effectiveness. Were fewer students hospitalized for binge drinking? Did students cooperate with the policy? Though correlations can’t tell us causations, they are helpful nonetheless. But administrators shouldn’t expect any revolutionary shifts in campus culture, and students shouldn’t fear a decrease in partying. Instead, students and administrators alike should try to recognize factors besides alcohol that might contribute to rape on campus.

Though I still hesitate to compare Brown’s situation to Prohibition, a historical comparison may be useful in predicting the policy’s outcome: Prohibition failed.

Gabriella Corvese ’15 is a former opinions editor and can be reached at

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  1. It was not an overreaction. The way the policy was worded the school was banning the consumption of alcohol in dorms with the exception of a single person drinking alcohol in their own room that they purchased themselves. Maybe you could argue 2 roommates drinking alcohol that each purchased himself was still allowed but as soon as any guest was in the room or someone was drinking alcohol they didn’t purchase themselves it could be deemed “an event with alcohol service in a residence hall,” which had now been banned.

    The university sent out the clarification to remind everyone that this rule wasn’t meant to keep the campus safe by limiting parties with alcohol – it was meant to be a PR move to target the fraternities. Remember, the QA openly admitted that SPG was an event that consistently facilitated sexual assault on campus for the last few years and they received no punishment.

  2. Agree w Greek Alum. Paxson is just covering her derriere with full knowledge that the “culture” issue is not being addressed. Like her predecessor, she is happy enough simply to make the bigger point that she supports open season on fraternities.
    With the real issue of morality and civility unaddressed, Brown women are probably less safe now than before the ban.
    Has anyone done a statistical valid analysis of the occurrences of violence, and rape, on campus?

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