University launches broad review of alcohol policies

The University’s alcohol policy will be put under a microscope this semester to more effectively address the needs of campus, a top administrator announced Friday.

The policy overhaul will include a streamlined process for event registration and the first formal distinctions between undergraduate students and master’s students, Assistant Dean of Students Tara Pereira said.

Pereira, who oversees the University’s judicial arm and the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education, hopes clarifications to the policy will make it “a more effective risk management tool.”

“Because the alcohol policy can be difficult to interpret, students end up working around it instead of working with it,” Pereira said.

Although the policy is reviewed annually, Pereira planned a comprehensive overhaul after changes to Student Judicial Services were finalized last August.

GW’s judicial and substance abuse offices have seen sweeping changes since early last semester, when SJS became The Office of Civility and Community Standards and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. In October, the University standardized punishments for common alcohol violations, furthering efforts by Pereira to revamp her departments after years of planning.

The changes to the alcohol policy represent Pereira’s broader goal to create “lasting cultural change” surrounding how students approach responsible decision-making. A clearer alcohol policy document allows students to focus on education and safety, instead of sanctions, she said.

“A lot of the incivility that happens on this campus is at the hands of alcohol,” Pereira said. “If we can get people to be safer with alcohol, we can be a more civil campus.”

All University-related events that serve alcohol on or off campus – including those hosted by student organizations, staff members and academic departments – must be registered through paperwork, a process Pereira called “cumbersome.” She hopes putting the bulk of the process online will increase efficiency.

Pereira is also reconsidering whether faculty events, which are typically attended by adults and make up about half of all CADE-registered gatherings, should face the same regulations as student events, as is now required.

The revised policy might also allow law students to train their peers in the University’s Responsible Alcohol Management guidelines to correspond with the practice of undergraduate GWise peer educators teaching undergraduates – one of several changes she plans to make specifically for the graduate student population.

This fall, law students tested a lower ratio of mandatory RAM-trained sober monitors to attendees at student organization parties with alcohol.

“As graduate students, we appreciate being leveled with as adults, and Tara has done that to a great degree,” President of the GW Law School’s Student Bar Association Nick Nikic said.

Pereira also said the “reasonable person” standard – which currently states that drinking among five or more members of a student organization must be registered as an official group event – will be rethought, using student input and the policies of other universities.

The reevaluation will consider whether the University can better distinguish between an official student organization gathering and a casual get-together with members of the same student organization separate from their group.

Alcohol cannot be given away for free at any GW-sanctioned event, a stipulation that presently bans open bars – even at graduate and faculty events attended predominantly by adults over 21 years of age. The creation of distinct undergraduate and graduate policies will look to make safe and reasonable adjustments to this policy, Pereira said.

Records of RAM-trained students will also be automated to cut down on human error, Pereira said, noting that names being accidently left off hand-written lists can affect Greek Excellence rankings because chapters must have a certain percentage of their members trained to gain the highest possible marks.

The revised Alcoholic Beverage Consumption and Distribution Policy will also formally include GW’s Alcohol Medical Amnesty and Good Samaritan policies, which are currently written as stand-alone policies. The amnesty policy protects students from judicial repercussions the first time they are transported to the hospital for alcohol overdose, while the Good Samaritan policy shields intoxicated friends from sanctions if they call for help on behalf of a peer.

The inclusion of the policies in the formal alcohol code demonstrates GW’s commitment to them, Pereira said.

Changes are being vetted by the University’s legal team and will likely roll out after the summer.

Pereira said the changes will help advance the University’s message about responsible decision-making.

“The University is here if you need us. Make good decisions and take care of your friends,” she said. “I think that the overall mission is to create an environment on campus where students are making good decisions and those good decisions are informed by the University.”

Pereira will collaborate with CADE’s newly hired associate director, Alexis Janda, throughout the process.

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