Imagine turning 21, going to a liquor store for the first time and having to check the proof of the liquor you want to buy before bringing it back to your campus residence hall. For students at universities that restrict alcohol possession on their campuses, that’s a reality. But because we attend a university that allows students over the age of 21 to possess alcohol on campus, the situation is hard to imagine.
Colleges across the country want to prevent students from engaging in dangerous behaviors on their campuses — specifically behaviors that result from alcohol consumption – and some have recently intensified their alcohol policies. Last week, Stanford University banned “hard” alcohol – alcohol that is above 40 proof or 20 percent alcohol per volume – from campus parties and banned all 750 milliliters or larger hard alcohol containers from undergraduate residence halls. It seems unrealistic to ban any type of alcohol from a campus that previously has allowed alcohol, and Stanford’s decision was poorly timed.
The ban comes only a few months after Stanford student Brock Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and sentenced to six months in prison. The university’s enhanced alcohol policy doesn’t seem like the way to start a conversation about alcohol’s effects on students. Restricting alcohol possession seems like a public relations decision to make officials seem like they’re actively creating a safer environment for students. And Stanford officials aren’t the only ones who recently made an alcohol-related rule change. After the 2014 Rolling Stone article about sexual assault at the University of Virginia, UVA also changed its alcohol policy.
We do not agree with the reactionary policies at Stanford and UVA. These bans make it look like officials think sexual assault is a result of alcohol consumption. Rather than try to ban a legal substance among students over the age of 21, universities should instead educate their student bodies on both alcohol consumption and sexual assault prevention. Mandatory education and training won’t solve every problem, but a ban does more harm than good in a college setting where officials should help students prepare for the real world.
In theory, a ban on hard alcohol only affects students who are 21 and living on campus. However, a private university should not abuse its freedom to set rules and regulations. Consuming and buying hard alcohol is legal for 21-year-olds, and a ban on a legal substance unfairly impacts students who are drinking legally and responsibly.
Furthermore, it’s unrealistic for university officials to assume that no one under the age of 21 is drinking at college. University policies should aim to keep students safe, but if students are going to break a policy to drink underage, they are likely to break a policy on drinking hard alcohol as well: College officials need to think about the reality of their policies.
Although GW isn’t trying to change its alcohol policy now, students should still be aware of the evolving alcohol-related codes at colleges across the country. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that an alcohol-related incident could cause GW officials to reevaluate the current alcohol policy.
And if the hard alcohol ban at Stanford becomes a barometer of when to implement bans and restrictions, GW officials wouldn’t be wrong to follow suit. In January 2009, a GW sophomore died from alcohol poisoning. A year later, a sophomore fell to his death from a window in Guthridge Hall, although it could not be determined whether he had been drinking before he died.
Although no changes were made to the University’s alcohol policy following these events, it’s possible GW could be spurred to make changes if something similar happens again.
We need to make sure that GW doesn’t follow a similar approach to Stanford and UVA by implementing policies that seem to be in reaction to sexual assaults on campus. These revised alcohol approaches, coupled with their timing, send the message that they are. That’s not a message GW should ever echo.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.