A year after the University’s chief judicial officer said GW would alter the alcohol policy that graduate students have called cumbersome, they are still waiting on the University’s legal arm to approve those changes.
GW’s Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education aims to roll out an alcohol policy this fall that will include clearer language and more flexible standards for graduate students, like reducing the number of sober monitors required at networking events.
The changes, details of which are being kept under wraps, will come after nearly two years of student lobbying and testing aspects of a revised policy. Law students, who have led the charge for reform, hope the new policy will allow free alcohol to be served at networking events, which is not permitted under the University’s current policy.
“Our main concern is having [free drinks] at networking events because at a lot of our events we bring in attorneys from around the D.C. area to mingle with students, and for us to have to charge for something like that is a hurdle,” Student Bar Association’s alcohol policy liaison Nicole Tyrell said.
“This shows that disconnect between the policy as it applies to undergrads [and graduate students], because in the context of a sorority and fraternity party, you wouldn’t want to have free alcohol out all of the time,” she added.
The Center’s director, Alexis Janda, who joined GW in January 2012, tied the yearlong delay to a prolonged review process of a policy that will reshape oversight of alcohol and students in a mixture that could have serious legal implications.
The revamped policy will formally implement changes in effect since the fall, like reducing the required sober monitor ratio for graduate student events — from 1-to-20 to just one monitor for every 50 attendees — and holding individualized Responsible Alcohol Management trainings for specific graduate student groups.
And while the policy could bring a series of other changes to differentiate graduate and undergraduate students, Janda declined to share the potential changes until the Office of General Counsel concludes its review this summer.
Last summer, then-Assistant Dean of Students Tara Pereira said that a reworked policy would also relax registration requirements for graduate student events, but Janda declined to say whether these were still on the table.
Janda explained that she does not want to provoke any reactions from graduate students without knowing whether certain changes will be approved or turned down by GW’s legal office. Senior Vice President and General Counsel Beth Nolan declined to comment through a spokeswoman on the status of the policy review.
The new policy could also include changes for faculty and staff events with alcohol, which are currently governed by the blanket policy.
Tyrell attributed the delay in the policy’s roll-out to the initial lack of a point person on alcohol policy from her group, and said Janda’s arrival stalled the changes.
“She had other priorities, [she] wanted to get the office organized, to get other people on staff to be able to help her to implement something that made sense to her and not just that she was adopting from the previous leadership,” Tyrell said.
The law student group also pushed for revisions to include clearer and more specific language to prevent unintentional violations because of a misunderstanding of event registration requirements.
Janda said students echoed this sentiment during town hall-style events last spring, just months after she was hired.
“What I got from the listening tour was students were like, ‘Well, we’d like to be, kind of, more taught the policy,’ instead of it being a policy where it’s like, ‘Hey, read this and follow it,'” Janda explained, adding that she hopes to hold workshops to explain elements of the policy to students.
The policy workshops would be a welcome sight for law students, who are particularly wary of inadvertent disciplinary slips because racking up a disciplinary record during law school can hurt a student’s admission to a bar association.
But third-year law student Andrew Bayer said the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education also needs to increase its educational outreach on substance abuse.
“CADE often times — knowingly or not — they worry too much about looking good and not enough about doing good,” Bayer, the Student Bar Association’s 2012-2013 programming director, said. “They care a lot about forms being submitted on time and signed by the right people.”
Bayer emphasized that over-stressed and overwhelmed law students would value increased programming and information about substance abuse that would help students during their time at GW and prepare them for responsible drinking in the legal world.
“We’ve had two [law] students in the past three years die of a drug or alcohol overdose,” he said, pointing to the deaths of Benjamin Gupta in 2011 and John Hroncich in 2012. Gupta died after mixing alcohol and oxycodone while Hroncich’s death was caused by a heroin and Adderall overdose.
“I haven’t seen one CADE staff member handing out a single flyer or putting on a single program trying to educate our community about how to deal with a high-stress job without resorting to dependence on drugs and alcohol,” Bayer added.