Alex Schneider: We need a separate alcohol policy for law students over 21

These days, there’s a new document all the law students are analyzing. And no, it isn’t Justice Antonin Scalia’s latest court opinion.

The University’s alcohol policy has stirred debate, uproar and then some compromise in the GW Law School over the last couple weeks. In the aftermath of sanctions and reactions, it is clear that GW still does not have a smart graduate student alcohol policy.

Here’s what happened: When promotions for the Student Bar Association’s “Thirsty Thursday” night were pitched to undergraduate students and featured alcohol – in violation of the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education Policy – the University forced a shutdown of a majority of Student Bar Association events through at least March 10. That included the school’s popular Bar Review nights, an important community-building event for a student body that needs to let off steam.

Above the Law, a blog widely read in the legal community, first publicized the controversy, calling GW’s backwards policy “scary and stupid.”

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
The University forced a shutdown of law school events after “Thirsty Thursday” was advertised to undergraduates as featuring alcohol.

When sanctions affect an entire school by shutting down so many events, students justifiably take note. Nearly 700 joined the “Underground Bar Review” Facebook group, with plans to meet as usual for Thursday bar nights, defying the rules. As Above the Law reported, that plan fell through because organizers were concerned about sanctions possible under the University’s policy. Students over the age of 21 should not have to hide underground.

In the past, the Student Bar Association has tried to negotiate new policies without luck. In light of recent sanctions, that need for reform is dire.

The current rules, especially the restriction on promoting events with alcohol, cause more issues than they solve. There’s no reason that graduate students, the vast majority of whom are legally allowed to drink, should have to avoid advertising the presence of alcohol at events. It’s going to be difficult to get students to come to “Thirsty Thursday” by highlighting the chips and salsa.

Critics of two separate alcohol policies – one for graduates, one for undergraduates – might raise the concern that some events include both of these populations, blurring the rules. That’s easy to solve: Law school events with alcohol could be closed to undergraduates. And either way, students would be required to show an appropriate ID before being allowed to drink.

The recent controversy also makes clear that enforcement should take into account how different schools set up student organizations.

At the law school, the Student Bar Association encompasses every individually run club, from the Arab Student Law Association to the Feminist Forum. The University has interpreted this to mean that when any individual Student Bar Association organization breaks the alcohol policy, every organization could face potential sanctions. That’s why the latest violation threatened student events run by all law school organizations.

A smarter policy, tailored to the law school, would not sanction every club for violations with which they had no oversight. Violations in the advertising of “Thirsty Thursday” should never have affected Bar Review.

After all, enforcing a rule prohibiting students who are not just of age but in fact might be in their early 30s or 40s from drinking alcohol is nothing short of comical.

The writer, a second-year law student, is a Hatchet columnist.

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