When D.C. students think of the differences between campus life at GW and Georgetown, university alcohol policy may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But come August, Georgetown students will be able to have kegs at their on-campus parties. Now that’s beer for thought.
While both GW and Georgetown have similar alcohol policies that ban underage drinking, Georgetown officials have explicitly acknowledged that drinking before the legal age of 21 is a fact of college life. Georgetown administrators said they realize the university can better protect students who remain on campus to party instead of going out into the city, and the school has made recent changes to its alcohol policies to reflect that.
Dan Porterfield, Georgetown’s vice president of public affairs, said the university prefers that its students drink on school grounds instead of some unknown bar on M Street.
“The real challenge is that there is a cultural norm that students will drink when they are 18,” Porterfield said.
Porterfield helped organize a meeting with senior administrators, faculty members and students in the summer of 2001, in which participants discussed their perspectives and concerns about alcohol consumption on college campuses across the country and at Georgetown.
“We didn’t start with the idea, ‘Well, let’s change the alcohol policy,'” Porterfield said. “We started with, ‘Let’s share thoughts and experiences about alcohol.'”
With this initial discussion, this group uncovered certain commonalities about drinking attitudes among students, faculty and administrators. The first group eventually split into different committees, and by 2004 they submitted a proposal to the university recommending changes in Georgetown’s alcohol policies.
One of the major changes in 2004 focused on the fundamental drinking policy in Georgetown residence halls. Previously, all university dorms were dry, but now alcohol is only banned from freshman halls. Porterfield explained that prior to the changes, underage students could get in trouble for being sober in a room where other underage people were drinking. He said today’s policy is angled only towards those actually consuming alcohol.
The school also discarded the rule that Georgetown students had to register parties four to five days in advance. The university set up a website where students could instead register their parties the day of the event.
This year, Porterfield and students worked together to further tweak Georgetown’s rules on drinking. Beginning in August, the university will permit the presence of one keg at an event in campus apartments and townhouses.
Georgetown alumna Kathryn Boogaard, one of the students who worked to change the alcohol policy in 2001, said the school made the right decision in recognizing that “strict alcohol policies do not lead to less drinking.”
Underage college students will likely drink despite the threat of punishment, she explained, so universities need to create a positive social environment that emphasizes drinking responsibly.
“Now if people want to construct a beer can pyramid, they can.” Porterfield said. “We wanted students to know it was good for them to socialize on campus.”
Unlike at Georgetown, whose campus is more secluded then GW’s Foggy Bottom locale, GW’s alcohol policy “does not promote alcohol consumption at any specific location over another,” wrote Brian Hamluk, director of off-campus student affairs and alcohol and other drug education, in an e-mail.
GW’s policy, which can be found in the Code of Student Conduct, does not permit kegs in University-owned housing. It states that anyone possessing “kegs, ‘party-balls,’ ‘beer bongs’ or other similar common-source containers, whether or not alcoholic beverages are present in such containers” will be in violation of the University’s policy.
When asked if GW permits its students to have the same type of input in GW’s drinking policy as the students of Georgetown do in their own, Hamluk said, “the University constantly reviews the GW Alcohol Policy. If there are areas where we feel the health and safety of students can be improved, modifications could be made to the policy.”
This fall, the University introduced a new medical amnesty policy, where underage students brought to the GW Hospital for alcohol consumption may not be given an alcohol violation if it is their first offense.
This academic year also marks the first time the University Police Department has held sole responsibility for documenting student alcohol violations. In past years, student residence hall staffers, community facilitators, also had authority to document students for violations.
GW sophomore Andrew Waldholtz said that while he said he thinks GW’s alcohol policy is “too strict,” he said the University did help create an “environment more conducive to socializing” by removing house staff from their policing role.
Georgetown sophomore Martyna Skowron said she thinks Georgetown’s policies are pretty lax.
“It’s not difficult to drink on campus at all,” Skowron said. “The upperclassmen often have parties on the rooftops . the consequences are not that severe most of the time.”