Alcohol ban an ineffective solution to a bigger problem

Lee/Beaumont Residential College residents achieved a new low last week that years of freshman drinkers have avoided: they accumulated so many Emergency Support Team calls that alcohol was unilaterally banned from the two buildings for a week.

What perhaps seems on the surface to be a reasonable measure to curb the abuse of alcohol on the South 40 instead reeks of heavy-handed forcefulness on the part of Residential Life administration, to likely little effect.

Presumably, the ban was intended to alter students’ drinking behavior for the weekends and months going forward, not just for the ban’s duration, but a week-long ban isn’t nearly long enough to have any sort of lasting impact on either the mindsets or behaviors of Lee/Beau residents. Indeed, as of this writing, the initial ban has already ended, and students are free and probably particularly excited to drink again—perhaps not the best message to send on the eve of Parent and Family Weekend.

The issue of the ban’s length distracts from the larger problem that a ban itself probably wouldn’t do much good to prevent dangerous drinking behaviors.

If drinking is banned in one residential college and not its neighbors, nothing is stopping those students from simply walking two minutes to get their alcoholic fill for the evening, and Lee/Beau’s problem is just transplanted elsewhere.

Justin Carroll, vice chancellor for students, admitted that this simple move of the problem was a possibility. “If you focus on ‘Well, I can’t drink here; I’ll just go drink somewhere else’ and you engage in risky behavior, you’re missing the point of what this is all about,” he said last week.

Yet with the alcohol ban standing by itself and having no supplementary education, there’s nothing preventing the residents from having that “I’ll just go drink somewhere else” mindset.

It would also seem reasonable to suspect that many of the students who overindulged in alcohol did so at a fraternity or off-campus party, not in their dorms. The ban did nothing to prevent students from drinking at these perhaps riskier locations; they’re farther from the students’ rooms and can be more conducive to binge-drinking behavior, particularly if Lee/Beau residents were unable to pregame in their dorms and felt the need to “catch up” with their friends upon arriving at a party.

These issues all stem from the paradoxical situation in which Washington University’s alcohol code exists. There is an unavoidable disconnect between Missouri law and the University’s “speed limit” analogy—the idea taught to students during orientation that as long as they don’t break the law excessively (for instance, going 70 mph in a 65 mph lane is more acceptable than driving 100), they won’t get in trouble.

Having to clarify that alcohol is banned in effect suggests that students should normally abide by the unofficial “alcohol is OK” policy. This open, lenient attitude toward drinking doesn’t suffer from poor spirit—we’re not suggesting the University should hold firm to state law, as drinking can be a rather important part of the college experience.

But the decision to make just one dorm dry for just one weekend—and thus have a single residential college operate under different rules from others—signals a problem in communication and coordination among the various buildings on the 40. Resident advisers and residential college directors need to have a uniform understanding and enforcement of policies.

Whether it’s alcohol education during orientation week that’s more comprehensive than the cursory discussion currently in place or some other method, the administration has the responsibility to ensure that students can enjoy themselves in a safe manner. “Tough-on-crime” stunts don’t accomplish that goal.

  • Anne Bradley

    Do you know what it means to be a drunk. How the condition slips up on you. In college you don’t say…I think I will be a drunk. No that’s not what you think at all but this is where it starts. Excessive alcohol leads to problems.

  • Frank Wheeler

    “nothing is stopping those students from simply walking two minutes to get their alcoholic fill for the evening”

    Glad to see Studlife staff is reading my comments.

  • Callow Cantalope

    Dear Studlife,

    Stop acting like 50 year old mothers. You’re in college, and there will be plenty of time for that later, and with your own children. WashU has many problems, but an overly-pervasive drinking culture – as this article aptly shows – sure ain’t one of them.