Harvard released a new College-wide alcohol policy Friday, ushering in an era of greater University regulation over undergraduate drinking.
The new guidelines, intended to standardize currently inconsistent enforcement of alcohol policy across the 12 Houses, outline how alcohol should be handled and distributed in a variety of settings—from students’ dorm rooms to social events sponsored by the College.
Harvard’s new policy, which has been in the works for months and is released in the wake of a scandal over fraternity hazing and drinking practices at Dartmouth College, will go into effect next fall after being reviewed by faculty. The guidelines specify the quantity and type of alcohol that can be served, how it can be advertised and licensed, and when it can be offered. The new policy includes no mention of jurisdiction over final clubs or Greek organizations.
While the College aims to tighten its grip over unsafe drinking on campus, it has loosened its restrictions on hard liquor. In response to student feedback, mixed drinks will once again be allowed at House formals.
When mixed drinks return to House formals next year, the College will view the relaxed policy as a pilot program to test whether students are able to drink hard liquor responsibly.
While House Committee Chairs applauded Harvard’s decision to reintroduce hard liquor to formals and incorporate other student feedback into the new policy, some questioned the guidelines’ vagueness about drinking games and punishment for infractions.
The document lays out one alcohol policy for all House formals.
It states that mixed drinks can contain only one type of liquor and must be served by a professional bartender approved by the Office of Student Life. While beer and malt beverages can be distributed at an open bar, mixed drinks must be purchased or disbursed through a drink ticket system.
Adams HoCo Co-Chair Jackson F. Cashion ’13 called the change “a good step toward treating us like adults.”
Cabot HoCo Co-Chair Laura S. Hinton ’13 echoed Cashion. Calling formals “a really important part of House life,” Hinton said, “Serving only beer and wine can be restrictive.”
The College’s move to reintroduce hard liquor at both on- and off-campus House formals reverses two decisions made over the past two years to restrict mixed drinks at these semester-end events. In April 2010, the College banned hard liquor at on-campus formals after the Cambridge License Commission decided that it would no longer issue all-liquor licenses to students. A year later, in March 2011, administrators extended the hard liquor ban to off-campus House formals.
Quincy HoCo Co-Chair Catherine G. Katz ’13, who, along with all the other HoCo chairs previewed the policy at a meeting Tuesday night, pointed to the reintroduction of hard liquor as evidence that the College took student input into consideration when drafting the guidelines.
“They could easily have taken a very hard-line policy and said no,” Katz said. “The fact that they were willing to try [the pilot program] shows they were willing to listen.”
Over the past year, the College has made an effort to solicit student feedback on the new policy at seven meetings. When these meetings generated low student turnout, the alcohol policy committee turned to an online survey for students last month. Next week, the College will hold three more student meetings to solicit feedback on the new policy.
IT’S MY PARTY
The new guidelines seek to clarify the College’s alcohol policy by examining terms such as “social events on campus” and “private party.”
The policy defines the former as “organized functions held in House common areas...or non-residential facilities...where alcohol is served.”
At these events, the policy said, beer, wine, and malt drinks will continue to be allowed, while hard liquor will still be banned. Kegs will be permitted at non-athletic social events—perpetuating the ban on kegs at tailgates which has long irked attendees.
The events must be registered and may not serve alcohol for longer than five hours. For parties longer than two hours, partygoers must get in line for alcohol at least thirty minutes before the event ends and receive their drink at least fifteen minutes before the conclusion of the party.
A “private party” under the new policy constitutes an event hosted by one or more students, in their own room or suite, where guests are allowed by personal invitation only.
If all hosts of the event are 21 or older, then kegs, beer, wine, malt drinks, and hard liquor will continue to be permitted at these private events.
Students seeking to host a private party are required to meet with their tutor before hosting their first party of each academic year. While the policy states that hosts must also demonstrate a “satisfactory understanding of strategies to create safe social environments,” as well as comply to state laws, it does not elaborate on how administrators, House Masters, and tutors will operationalize such standards.
When it comes to the details of actual alcohol consumption—particularly drinking games—the policy is vague.
The document states: “Activities that promote high-risk drinking, such as excessive and/or rapid consumption of alcohol, particularly of a competitive nature, are not permitted. It is expected that hosts will plan parties where drinking is not the central activity.”
Asked on Thursday whether the new policy permits students to play beer pong, a College administrator who spoke on background declined to respond.
Winthrop HoCo Co-Chair Marissa C. Friedman ’14 said she was concerned that the new policy’s “vague language” about competitive drinking games would leave each tutor to enforce the regulation as he sees fit.
“There are going to be some tutors who see any drinking game as a competitive high-risk drinking game and will shut it down...versus other tutors who are going to be very lax about it and say it’s okay as long as people aren’t chugging a handle,” Friedman said. “The vague language doesn’t really allow for University consistency, which I think could be a problem.”
Leverett HoCo Co-Chair Gary D. Carlson ’13 said that the HoCo Chairs expressed concern about the new policy’s ambiguous wording, particularly with regard to punishment, at their meeting on Tuesday.
“Nobody knows where the line is for Ad Boarding,” Carlson said. “That just causes fear among the student body.”
But Katz defended the policy’s wording. “It’s good that they are leaving some of this up to the autonomy of the Houses to deal with things as they see fit,” she said.
The College’s new policy seems to be unlike anything that has come before it. While predecessors do exist, they are brief or hard to find.
The 2011-2012 Handbook for Students offers guidelines about drugs and alcohol that are much shorter than the policy released Friday. By searching Google, students can also find a more detailed form of the old alcohol policy in a document titled “Alcohol and Drug Policy for RD manual” on a Harvard iSite website
Friday’s announcement marks the culmination of a year-long effort by the College to universalize its inconsistently enforced alcohol policy. In March 2011, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds began taking quiet steps to crack down on campus drinking, publishing an op-ed in The Crimson about alcohol use the day before the alcohol-soaked illicit tradition of River Run. She also sent a memo to House Masters instructing them to enforce the College’s alcohol policy more consistently.
Later that month, the Pforzheimer HoCo canceled its biannual Pfoho Golf event, where groups of students traveled to designated rooms, called “holes,” which offered alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments. The House Masters said that the event did not adhere to the College’s ID-checking policy for House-sponsored events.
The month ended with Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson’s announcement banning hard liquor at off-campus House formals.
Amid these reforms, the College convened an alcohol policy committee that spring and charged the group of administrators and students with drafting new guidelines for on-campus drinking.
—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at email@example.com.