Analysis: Dartmouth’s Hard Alcohol Ban Unlikely To Affect Harvard

Responding to news that Dartmouth will soon implement a ban on hard alcohol on campus, Harvard administrators and national experts on alcohol safety said that while they were unsurprised by the new policy at Dartmouth, they expect the changes to have little effect on Harvard College’s recently revised approach to policing alcohol.

In 2012, the same year that Dartmouth grappled with a hazing scandal, Harvard College adopted a new set of alcohol policies. The policies standardized how the Houses serve and police alcohol, reintroducing hard liquor to House formals in the form of mixed drinks and adopting regulations of private student parties on campus.

Harvard's Alcohol Policy
The College's approach to regulating the use of alcohol on campus has evolved over the last few years.

Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67, who sits on the Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs Services executive committee, said he understands the reasoning behind the changes at Dartmouth, citing safety issues related to pre-gaming and hard alcohol. But he does not know of an immediate push to change current policy at Harvard, he said.

“More and more schools are clamping down on the use and abuse of alcohol,” Dingman said. “We’re aware of [the other schools], but you have to decide what’s best for your own institution, and many schools just have a different ethos.”


Eliot House Co-Master Gail A. O’Keefe, who sat on the committee that wrote Harvard’s current alcohol policies, similarly said she understands Dartmouth’s decision, but said she feels that Harvard does not need any additional policy changes as of yet.

“The [current] policy seems very easy,” O’Keefe said. “We have not had any students push back.”

Although Harvard and Dartmouth have both geography and the Ivy League in common, there are important factors that distinguish them, outside higher education experts said. Individual institutions, they added, must focus on researching their own cultures and specific factors that would affect alcohol safety.

Noting one such factor, Matt Gregory, outgoing president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, said Harvard’s urban campus in Cambridge would make a ban on hard alcohol much less effective than it might be at Dartmouth’s location in the smaller town of Hanover. He said there are fewer opportunities for Dartmouth students to “go out into the community and engage in what could be called risky behavior” off campus.

Gregory also said that the two schools' relations with Greek life mark an important difference. Dartmouth houses fraternities on campus, while Harvard does not recognize many off-campus social organizations.

Other experts cautioned against schools’ flatly incorporating the approaches of other institutions without first examining their own specific policies and culture.

“There may be an error in adopting the specific points and transferring those points to other campuses, because what you really want to do is do campus-specific strategic planning,” said Dan Reilly, a prevention and research coordinator at the University of Missouri’s Partners in Prevention, a consortium of Missouri colleges focused on preventing students’ high-risk and underage drinking.

Still, both Reilly and Gregory pointed to Dartmouth as an example of how schools can utilize community outreach before enacting significant policy changes.

While Harvard College leaders, meanwhile, say they are attuned to the changes underway at Dartmouth, some administrators reiterated that they feel confident in Harvard’s approach to alcohol. “Our approach is a multifaceted one involving peer education, counseling, policy and programming," Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich wrote in an email.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who chaired the committee that crafted the current College alcohol policies, wrote in an email that the College has continued to work on a “multifaceted approach to addressing issues around alcohol.”

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.