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Editorial: Preventing unnecessary loss

Brown will undergo an external review of undergraduate alcohol consumption next semester, The Herald reported Wednesday. The move comes in the wake of a survey in which 45 percent of undergraduates surveyed admitted to binge drinking — an act defined as consuming four drinks for women and five drinks for male students within about two hours. The figure, as Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn noted, is distinctly higher than the national average binge drinking rate for college campuses: 36.5 percent of undergraduates. These results merit attention, and we hope that University efforts taken will continue to prioritize student health over unnecessary penalization — working foremost to promote safety.

Data about student binge drinking places Brown “in the middle of the pack” compared to five peer institutions, Director of Health Education Frances Mantak told The Herald last year. At that time, Klawunn told The Herald that University efforts aimed at preventing binge drinking were centered around a “harm reduction approach to target behaviors that are the most high-risk, like somebody being so intoxicated that they could die.” Such an approach is valuable and should be continued. For example, the University does not penalize students for calling Emergency Medical Services for peers in need, promoting an environment that prioritizes student safety rather than purely punitive action. We would strongly urge any reform to continue this potentially life-saving policy.

Several University policies have also worked to minimize student harm during high-risk events such as Spring Weekend, another policy we support. Throughout the weekend, Residential Peer Leaders patrol dorms, helping students who may have become incapacitated. Such a service can prevent needless losses such as those that have been highly publicized at other schools.

The value of these policies becomes clearer upon examining the harms uncurbed undergraduate alcohol consumption has had. Recent stories about the drinking culture at Dartmouth fraternities and about alcohol-related deaths at Cornell highlight a reckless relationship with alcohol that has placed students in very real danger. Policies that reduce the possibility of student harm are essential.

We cannot prevent every student from binge drinking to the point of severe endangerment, but we can take steps to minimize such occurrences and to safely deal with them when they do occur. For first-years, such efforts include strong RPL training and supervision on the weekends, when most episodes of binge drinking are likely to occur. They include education that is focused on how to drink responsibly and the associated dangers that come with alcohol consumption. Most of all, they involve fostering an ethic of community responsibility — encouraging students to make the phone call that could save a friend, a roommate or a stranger’s life. On an administrative and on an individual level, we should do all we can to ensure that no Brown students suffer long-term harm from such a preventable cause.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to



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