The question nagged at me ever since I, a wee first year, was caught with an empty bottle Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum in my dorm room. “Why, God?” I screamed as the TUPD officer dragged me away to the depths of the Those-Who-Dare-To-Keep-Empties Penitentiary.
In fact, I was not keeping the rum bottle for any kind of collection or display (as drinking Sailor Jerry’s was the worst decision I’d yet made in college) but because I had just finished drinking it the night before, on campus, and had not yet thrown it away. But that is exactly the reason the “no empties” policy is in effect at all: to discourage the consumption of hard alcohol on campus by punishing ownership of the containers at all. On second thought, there were probably a few hilarious/horrible instances in which a student thought “Quick! If I chug the rest of this Old Crow before the officer gets to me, I’ll be in the clear!” and these instances led to the “no empties” policy.
But I digress. Why does Trinity ban hard alcohol? They are not alone. Dartmouth is the most high-profile example of a college banning the drinking and possession of hard alcohol on campus, but many other colleges do so as well (although few of the other “bans” exclude possession in residences, focusing more on banning it at public or private parties).
The idea, so I’ve gathered, is that allowing hard alcohol on campus and at campus events not only makes it easier for students to get dangerously drunk but also acts as a tacit endorsement of drinking culture, which in recent years has been more associated with the nastier side of partying, namely sexual assault and hazing.
So is the ban just Trinity’s way of covering its ass while helping its students stay healthier? That would be great. But a common counterargument to the above is that banning hard alcohol simply pushes partying off campus, assuming that college students are going to go to moderate lengths to drink “” a statement I mostly agree with. And if by “moderate lengths” I mean “drive a few miles to a party,” then the ban doesn’t seem very effective as a means of reducing drinking-related health hazards, especially considering the additional dangers of drunk-driving.
So what if Trinity dropped the ban today? I doubt much of this would change; few people would stop going to parties off campus (for one thing, many of the external parties happen at the frat houses that Trinity doesn’t have on campus) just because they could drink here. But I don’t think much would change because people already drink hard alcohol on campus all the time. I am of the opinion that while Trinity’s philosophy behind the ban is a good one, the policy is simply too seductive to resist adopting: for all intents and purposes, it gives the appearance of positive action against binge drinking and, by driving hard alcohol consumption underground, removes the ability to effectively monitor actual consumption on campus.
But I have to give Trinity credit: it’s tried to mitigate this effect with programs like the Optimal Buzz. Programs like that seem to be aiming at actually helping students drink more responsibly (read: drinking with less projectile vomiting) instead of shoving a problem under the rug. Trinity also has a responsible friend policy that protects those who come forward to help dangerously intoxicated students, but isn’t the policy weakened by the alcohol ban, as it would only help people who get dangerously drunk on campus?
Colleges, especially colleges as small as Trinity, function somewhat like training wheels for the real world. This particular function of colleges is very important, as many students, myself included, are inexperienced with alcohol when they arrive as first years. Shunting heavy drinking off campus negates this function in many ways; one way is that instead of dealing with TUPD and facing relatively small penalties, students off campus have to deal with SAPD and the full force of the law.
I believe Trinity should take up the mantles of educator, protector and crucible with pride. Instead of banning hard alcohol, it should take existing programs of education and information and take them even further. For one thing, informing students (especially younger or more inexperienced ones) helps them even when they do choose to drink hard alcohol, on or off campus. Trinity would be helping students make their lives safer instead of “assum[ing] no responsibility or liability for such activities,” its official alcohol policy on hard alcohol provided at off campus parties.