Last Friday, after a year-long effort to standardize its drinking regulations, Harvard issued a new, improved, and College-wide alcohol policy. From clarifying specific old policy terms to universalizing alcohol guidelines throughout upperclassmen houses, this comes as a much-needed step for the College, whose previous policy was filled with nebulous wordingthat allowed for frequent inconsistencies in its enforcement. While some tighter restrictions will be placed over private parties—students will be required from next fall to meet with their resident tutor before holding their first room party—the ban on hard alcohol at house formals has been relaxed. That being said, the new policy is not without its faults, as a few aspects of alcohol enforcement still remain largely ambiguous.
The College’s position on drinking games, for instance, continues to be particularly vague in that it fails to specify whether or not these games constitute the sort of high-risk, excessive drinking that is universally prohibited on campus. It will also remain to be seen how different house tutors and administrators interpret what is to be deemed “competitive” drinking. This gray area will likely leave the consequences of drinking games and other forms of competitive alcohol consumption to the discretion of individual house tutors, one of the very situations that the new policy attempts to combat. In addition, the position of administrators also seems to be lacking in clarity, leaving students to question their level of authority and ability toenforce certain guidelines.
It is therefore important that the College further clarify their policies so as to establish definitive boundaries for the undergraduate student body. Failure to do so will likely resort in students feeling unsure as to whether or not their actions are acceptable, thereby driving them toward off-campus parties. Furthermore, increased clarification on the degree of administrative enforcement will surely prove beneficial for the administrators themselves by making them less liable for student action.
In addition, while we are glad that the College has made excellent progress by universalizing and clarifying its alcohol policies, student input again seemed to be somewhat lacking. Although it is commendable that the College enlisted the help of students in the initial drafting stages, the relative lack of turnout at the policy-related dialoguesheld at the end of last year was partly the result of a failure to publicize them around campus. Moreover, this extremely low rate of attendance was likelyalso the resultofa widely held beliefthat the administration would be unwilling to consider seriously theideas and proposals that come from the student body. If administrators were truly interested in the degree of student participation, they should have made explicit the fact that student input would be seriously taken into account through increased publicity and a greater appeal to students on campus.
On the whole, however, this newly released policy seems to respond to many of the central concerns raised by students over the past few years. Clarity has been something the Crimson has argued in favor of for some time. A solid understanding of alcohol policy is something that was largely lacking up until this point, and the fact that the policy is now clearly defined and universalized is certainly a significant improvement. With consistent enforcement of these new policies, students will hopefully feel more comfortable partying in safely regulated on-campus locations rather than resorting to potentially unsafeoff-campus ones. We hope that now that these long-overdue clarifications have been provided, it is time more than ever for the Office of Student Life to shift their focus from alcohol-related concerns to other important issues on campus.