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Editorial: An unproven alcohol policy

On Sept. 4, 2015, the interim assistant vice presidents for campus life and student services sent a campus-wide email detailing alcohol policies for the fall semester. The updated report contains few changes from last semester and, perhaps most significantly, continues the ban on events with alcohol in residential spaces. The prohibitions on alcohol extend to lounge spaces as well as parties that require a license. While informal gatherings of students over 21 are allowed to include alcohol, guidelines indicate that even these meetings will be shut down if the noise disturbed others. Though the University has not adequately assessed the impact of this decision, the administration has determined that this protocol has and will continue to have a positive impact on students’ lives.

Other universities, such as Stanford and Washington University in St. Louis, follow strikingly different policies that are far more tolerant of college alcohol consumption. In particular, these schools have adopted a practice known as the “open-door” policy. Students in residential spaces (including underage students) are perfectly welcome to consume alcohol at parties as long as their doors remain open. The jury is still out on whether this is the best policy, but Harvard researchers have found that colleges that ban alcohol and those that do not have the same amount of alcohol related problems.

That said, some research does point to strict alcohol policies having some benefits: The same Harvard study found that colleges that place strict restrictions on the consumption of alcohol have 21 percent less binge drinkers than colleges that do not. But the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s statistics show that only half of the 80 percent of college students who drink binge drink.

These findings indicate that, rather than keeping the focus on strict alcohol policies on campus, Brown would be wise to shift its energy from enforcing abstinence from alcohol to educating students about safe drinking practices. Binge drinking is problematic, but penalizing all students who drink will not result in safer behavior. Regardless of Brown’s guidelines and restrictions, parties with alcohol in residential spaces will continue, and strict alcohol policies run the risk of making students feel more uneasy about informing the administration of sexual assaults involving alcohol or calling EMS in cases of alcohol poisoning.

In other words, Brown’s alcohol policies have the potential to hinder progress in reducing rates of alcohol-related problems. To remedy this issue, Brown should first conduct a thorough study to investigate whether this policy truly reduces sexual assault or the incidence of alcohol poisoning. Without such a study, it seems frivolous and problematic to extend the current alcohol policy indefinitely. The University must assure that its new alcohol policy makes for a more positive campus environment.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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