Last Monday, Director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services, Ryan M. Travia, told students at a discussion about alcohol policy that alcohol-related admissions to University Health Services had decreased this semester, as compared with previous years. Such a decline comes on the heels of three years of marked increases, which many attribute to the 2007 institution of the amnesty policy. No hard statistics have been released concerning the decline in admissions, and we have no sense of how significant it actually was. Travia also took the opportunity to attribute the decrease to the Office of Student Life’s financial support for non-alcoholic activities, as well as the recent College-wide crack-down on dangerous drinking practices, such as drinking games.
Considering the utter lack of hard data regarding the decline in alcohol-related admissions, it would be unwise to draw knee-jerk conclusions about the effectiveness of the administration’s new alcohol policy. At a time when the College, as a community, is looking to reevaluate its underage drinking policies, it would be irresponsible to use a vague, possibly statistically insignificant decline in admissions to justify decisions that, as far as we can see, may have in fact worked against student welfare.
The lack of statistics from University Health Services regarding the decline in alcohol-related admissions is part of a broader problem: that UHS withholds potentially valuable information from students. We understand their concern for student confidentiality, yet we believe that the community stands much to gain from deeper insight into dangerous drinking at Harvard. So long as an individual’s privacy is maintained, confidentiality should not act as a defense against transparency. If student leaders had an idea of not only how many alcohol-related admissions there were, but also on which days they occurred, they could better gauge whether their own organizations’ social events were contributing to hospital admissions. Furthermore, it would be useful for all students to know how many admits are freshmen, versus how many are upperclassmen. It is easy to presume that one group, or set of locations, stand responsible for a preponderance of admissions; more data would help students tell whether such presumptions are in fact misguided.
Attempting to use undisclosed statistics as evidence for the success of new anti-drinking policies turns what should be an open discussion on the subject into a kangaroo court, where only those rendering the verdict have seen the evidence. Everyone can agree that students and administrators share a single goal: making sure students are both safe and happy. We appreciate the administration’s efforts to include students through recent discussions on the topic. We simply hope that they don’t jump too quickly at the opportunity to claim success, when success is far from certain. The College’s reevaluation of underage drinking policy should be open, inclusive, and measured. It may be the case that the ban on drinking games has had an effect, but it is just too soon to tell.