Alcohol Obscurity

The College’s new alcohol policies are under-publicized and misguided

Students wishing to hold a party might expect to consult the Student Handbook, or another official University document, to find out what rules they will be held accountable for. But in fact, the only place undergraduates are able find out about a new update to Harvard’s alcohol policy is from their fellow students.

Harvard is implementing a new set of rules regarding private and public parties, which mandate that students register large events three weeks in advance and that Beverage Authorization Teams be present at those parties that serve alcohol. They also impose strict regulations on advertising of alcoholic events. These policies are part of a “working draft” that was presented to the Committee on House Life last Thursday, and they will be included in the Student Handbook only if the Faculty Council approves it.

However, the policies, which have not been released to the public in full, apparently went into effect at the beginning of the semester. The Student Handbook is supposed to comprise the important rules that govern student life, and the administration should not enforce policies that are not part of it. Until these new policies have been included in the Handbook, students cannot be held accountable for breaking them.

The administration was wrong in failing to better publicize these changes in policy. The Crimson’s coverage of the report was the only opportunity that many students had to find out about it, and furthermore, several parts of the new rules remain ambiguous. For example, the distinction between small and large events—the latter of which demand Beverage Authorization Teams or police detail under the new rules—is unclear. If the College has not taken care to clarify their new policies, they should not expect students to comply with them.

The rare redeeming facet of the report is a more standardized alcohol policy across houses, which has the potential to promote a more healthy drinking environment at Harvard. However, these changes do almost nothing to directly promote student health and safety. The policies’ numerous references to the drinking age and the extensive logistical constraints that it puts on party registration and advertising suggest that the administration is more concerned with following the letter of the law and covering its bureaucratic hide than about protecting the lives and safety of students, which should be the prime focus of any alcohol policy.

One aspect of the policy that could potentially promote safety is the requirement that tutors check in on registered parties at least once. While this provision could ensure that students who need medical attention are more likely to be found, it is rendered impotent by the draft’s aforementioned vagueness. The rule is likely to be implemented in different ways across different houses, and therefore the status quo, in which some tutors have stricter policies than others, will probably continue under the new rules. This rule, and others, also makes no mention of the school’s amnesty policy, which is another sign that the school may be moving from an alcohol policy aimed at promoting health and safety to one fixated on eliminating underage drinking entirely.

While the content and focus of these policies are troubling, we are particularly appalled at their unjust implementation. The student body deserves a better understanding of the rules that govern their social lives, and the administration’s approach to these new policies has not reflected the openness and clarity that students should expect.