Paternalistic Policies

New College alcohol policies remain wanting

The Crimson staff has on more than one occasion lamented the rise of misguided alcohol policy at Harvard College. Unfortunately, it appears that the College's recently revised regulations represent yet another instance of alcohol policy gone awry.

The newly introduced policy promises to promote student safety by placing restrictions on drinking games, limiting the kinds of alcohol that can be served at House parties, and sanctioning a number of other regulations on alcohol use. Limitations on high-risk drinking may seem well advised, but one must consider the inconvenient reality that University restrictions on alcohol use are unlikely to have any significant impact on student behavior. Instead, the new alcohol policy has introduced and reinforced a set of vague, myopic rules that will do little to promote campus safety.

Bizarrely, both the new policy’s equivocal language and the prevarication of administrators are entirely at odds with what should be one of the main goals of a policy on alcohol use: to make regulations transparent to students. Perhaps administrators have left the rules vague with the intention of restricting a wide range of alcohol-related activities. The policy’s vague language is unlikely to accomplish this goal, but its frustrating ambiguity virtually guarantees that it will neither be observed nor always taken seriously by students. For example, undergraduates are still uncertain of whether they are allowed to play games like beer pong, a ubiquitous activity at dorm parties, and the administration continues to remain silent on this question. Administrators ought instead to make expectations clear rather than enforcing nebulous policies at their own discretion.

More problematic than the policy’s ambiguity, however, is the administration’s paternalistic insistence on enforcing rules that extend well beyond Massachusetts drinking law. Such unconstructive rules demonstrate a woeful failure to understand the realities of undergraduate life. Restrictions on drinking games, the amount of alcohol that may be present at parties, and other alcohol-related activity will not diminish the centrality of alcohol in undergraduate culture. Students will carry on playing drinking games, many of which are conducted safely and responsibly, irrespective of administrative disapproval.

If the goal of the new alcohol policy is to advance student safety, it is ironic that the behavioral change that is perhaps most likely to result from the policy is detrimental to student welfare. Rather than motivating students to curb irresponsible drinking, the policy will further incentivize students to relocate drinking to off-campus venues, most notably final clubs, where they do not have immediate access to tutors and other critical resources. Moreover, final club property is predominantly male-owned and operated and can engender environments that are unsafe for women.

Classics professor Richard F. Thomas, one of the faculty members who voted to implement the new policy, has stated that “the making of rules is not necessarily going to create adherence to them.” We question, then, what might have motivated administrators to authorize an undue expansion of the College's alcohol policy. It is possible that the new policy successfully covers a liability for the University. While liability should be a matter of significant concern, all parties involved surely agree that it should not take precedence over a weighted consideration of student safety.

We urge the University to avoid introducing regulations on alcohol that go beyond what is mandated by Massachusetts law. If Harvard is to prioritize student welfare, it cannot justify authorizing social policies that misdiagnose the source of campus safety risks and undermine student autonomy.

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