Editorial: Prohibition-style mandates won’t curb excessive campus drinking

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Whether you participate in it or not, America’s college party scene is a longer-lasting establishment than some of the nation’s universities. 

It would be irresponsible not to acknowledge the historically unwaivering destructiveness of binge drinking on and off college campuses. Colleges must attend to problems associated with overconsumption, but strict prohibition of hard liquor on college campuses doesn’t address the root of this problem. Dartmouth College and its president, however, are giving this measure a try.

Dartmouth College, the Ivy League school located in Hanover, N.H., announced this past Thursday that it would prohibit hard liquor on its campus, whether in dormitories or campus events. The announcement comes in the wake of ongoing binge drinking-related incidents on college campuses, including sexual assault, hazing and hospitalizations. For example, last Tuesday, two former Vanderbilt University football players were convicted of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room after a night out in 2013. 

Although we should applaud efforts to combat the aforementioned problems, we must consider the effectiveness of complete prohibition. History and human nature tells us that merely prohibiting hard liquor may prove counterintuitive to the policy’s intent. If a college prohibits hard liquor on campus, then we can reasonably assume more partying will shift to off-campus locations, which could result in an increase in instances of drunk driving. Additionally, if a student has too much to drink, it is better for a trained RA or RD to find and care for him or her than for the student to be stranded alone off-campus. 

Colleges should continue to invest in educational programs to show students how harmful abusing hard liquor can be. Here at Pitt, students complete AlcoholEdu, which teaches students basic facts and laws, before entering their freshman year. The education should not stop there.

Students must be aware of physiological effects, social consequences and the increased dangers of violence stemming from excessive alcohol-induced impairment. Thus, colleges should mandate students to show a proficient understanding of the effects of binge drinking on individuals each year. Although students or observers may look down upon such programs, if we can teach students just one more fact about alcohol — such as how we metabolize it — students would have a deeper understanding of the dangers excessive drinking of hard liquor can pose to anyone. If this effort saved just one life, we would be successful. Additionally, colleges and universities should actively provide recreational opportunities for students that promote social engagement without alcohol. In this regard, we applaud Dartmouth College. Philip J. Hanlon, Dartmouth’s president, said that his college will provide alternatives to drinking by building new spaces for social events. 

Overall, alcohol use is not drying up, whether on or off college campuses. However, there is more that universities and colleges can do to educate students on the dangers of excessive drinking as well as provide them with social settings removed from the presence of alcohol. Education, not prohibition, is the most effective approach to combating social ills. 

Let’s apply this approach to binge drinking so that we may more effectively combat the sexual assault, hazing and hospitalization of college students.