River Run was a bit of a blur. Except for the pizza. I definitely remember the pizza. DAPA, the Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisers, foisted it upon us, bewildered freshmen scampering from courtyard to courtyard. My newly minted blockmates and I grabbed a few pieces and went on our way. Now, as graduation looms, I’ve realized that DAPA’s pizza station remains memorable because it is a rare example of a concerted University-sponsored attempt to make late-night drinking safer. Too often, the focus is on convincing students not to drink in the first place and barring underage students from doing so. Still, students drink, often heavily. The University should focus on ensuring that these students who do choose to drink can do so safely and responsibly. In the light of skyrocketing alcohol-related UHS admissions, this focus becomes even more important. Fortunately, there are two simple steps that the Administration should take to help party-goers have just the right amount of fun on weekends: extend Brain Break and ensure that dining hall drink dispensers are operational.
According to an email from Ryan Travia, Director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services, the pizza station (which also dispenses water) is a “harm reduction strategy” intended to “help reduce incidents of high-risk drinking” on Housing Day Eve. But, this “harm reduction” technique is utilized just once a year. The rest of the year, the University relies on DAPA grants, which provide funding for students to buy food and non-alcoholic beverages for their parties. Ideally, DAPA grants would have the scope and name recognition allowing them to provide food at every undergraduate party. Unfortunately, many students are either unaware of the grants or are deterred by the need to submit a grant application days ahead of time. Nor do DAPA grants reach students who frequent extracurricular parties, final clubs, or bars and clubs in Cambridge and Boston. These grants are well-intentioned, but their reach is limited. Harvard’s administration should do more.
Brain Break must be extended throughout the weekend. Eating may be critical to weeknight study sessions, but it is equally important for safe drinking on the weekend. Felipe’s, Noch’s, and the 24 Hour Market offer late-night food options, but they are far from some of the Houses and financially prohibitive for many students. The House grilles are also a late-night food option, but they do not operate in every House, and anyone who has been to Quincy Grille late on a Saturday knows that it is often overcrowded. The fact that in many Houses students have no access to food after 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, whether they are drinking, studying, or just relaxing, is bewildering and irresponsible. If the University truly cares about ‘harm reduction,’ they should make it as easy as possible for students to make safe choices on weekend nights. Every obstacle—needing to apply for a grant, needing to walk to another House, needing to pay for food—deters students from making the choices that are in their best interest, especially when they are intoxicated. Providing Brain Break in each House on Friday and Saturday nights is crucial to maximizing the number of students who have access to food when they have been drinking, access that AODS has deemed critical to student safety.
Similarly, everyone knows that hydrating is key to avoiding terrible hangovers. Yet, dining halls often remove paper cups, unplug water and soda machines, or render their drink dispensers inaccessible on weekend nights. For students returning home after a party, this inability to access cups and hydration in their own House is highly unfortunate. AODS and the administration should work with HUHDS to ensure that cups are available on Friday and Saturday nights. These simple and affordable steps can complement the University’s already-strong alcohol education program (which helps us to think critically before we drink) and amnesty policies (which take care of us when we, by all accounts, should have stopped drinking earlier).
It is easy to say that unsafe drinking stems not from a lack of harm reduction, but from bad judgment and unsafe drinking environments in which people have little control over their intoxication. Critics might argue that final clubs or off-campus parties simply get students too intoxicated. Yet, after four years of observing and participating in this school’s social scene, I know that students are often fully conscious of the alcohol-related decisions they are making. They are looking for fun, for release, and for relaxation. They are also interested in and willing to take the necessary steps to ensure that their nights end well, no matter where they begin. Making these steps apparent and easy is in the interest of both students and administrators.
These suggestions are not meant to blame the University for students’ decisions about where to party or how to drink. Instead, they proceed from the belief that regardless of judgments about where, why, how, and with whom students are drinking, student safety comes first and should therefore be the primary concern of our community. Yet, I am concerned that the University may take steps in the opposite direction. According to Travia, AODS and the University are still determining whether they will operate the pizza and water station for River Run this year. To cut the station for budgetary or any other reasons would be counterproductive. It would demonstrate a lingering reluctance to pursue the easiest, most cost-effective safe drinking programs. As River Run approaches, I call on AODS to fund pizza for our bewildered, nervous, and soon-to-be-Housed Freshmen. But, one night of “harm reduction” is just a token gesture. Drinking takes place many other nights at Harvard. “Harm reduction” should too.
Tobias S. Stein ’11, is an urban studies concentrator in Quincy House. His column, usually appears on alternate Mondays.