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Editorial: Will Prohibition work at Brown?

Brown has banned alcohol from being served at any residence hall parties or fraternity events. Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, and Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, sent a campus-wide email Monday announcing the sanctions in response to two campus incidents that took place last semester. On Oct. 3 at Sigma Chi, a student was touched without consent, and on Oct. 17 at Phi Kappa Psi, two students were incapacitated with date-rape drugs and one reported being sexually assaulted. Sigma Chi may not recruit new members or hold social events until fall 2016. Phi Kappa Psi has lost University recognition for the next four years, which means the fraternity will no longer have on-campus housing. The email also announced a comprehensive review of the University’s alcohol policies in order “to promote a safer environment on campus.”

We think this ban is a good idea, but this alone will not curtail sexual assault or improper behavior surrounding alcohol use. It will likely drive drinking underground, leading people to pre-game parties and get drunk quickly. It could also lead to a jump in reckless drinking and sexual assaults off-campus, which are much harder to police and prevent.

At the same time, the ban demonstrates the University’s commitment to addressing the problem. The two events featured in Carey and Klawunn’s email are undoubtedly not the only instances of sexual assault on Brown’s campus last semester. As the University takes a hard look at the daunting task ahead, students, faculty members and administrators have an opportunity to discuss the culture created by current campus drinking practices and which environments exacerbate sexual misconduct. Alcohol is not the only issue at stake in these situations, but it often leads to poor communication and decision-making and unwanted sexual contact. Reneging on the ban would bring us back to where we were before, with people’s needs not being met, students feeling unsafe and insufficient emphasis being placed on personal and communal responsibility.

There is also the question of how this policy will be enforced — another tall order. What will happen to students caught drinking at a party in a residence hall? What sort of disciplinary action will be taken? Will alcohol seizures follow? Questions like these will be answered with time.

We are hopeful that Brown can build a campus environment that emphasizes and promotes socially responsible behavior, starting with protecting students from sexual assault at parties at fraternities and elsewhere. Ultimately, we hope the discussions that arise from the University’s recent decisions will get students to think hard. Because it is not an easy thing to think and act responsibly. We also endorse the vision of a campus drinking culture in which alcohol is not imbibed in excess and communication and respect are central to sexual encounters.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Zoila Bergeron ’17, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15 and Katherine Pollock ’16. Send comments to

Editors' note: Kaplan and Rattner, both members of Sigma Chi, recused themselves from the writing and editing of this editorial.


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