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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Time for alcohol policy committee to act

Published: September 16, 2011
Section: Editorials

It comes as no surprise that the first two weekends on campus have brought an abundance of underage binge drinking. As first-year students transition into college, they suddenly find themselves living in an environment vastly different from high school.

No longer are parents watching every decision and controlling where their kids go to socialize and party.

At Brandeis, six students have been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in the past two weekends. If administrators were looking for an appropriate time to renew a community-wide discussion around responsible alcohol use, to encourage the Alcohol and Drug Policy Committee to work transparently with students, and to prevent stupidity and tragedy before they occur, we believe they have found one.

To some, hospital transports for alcohol poisoning may sound routine at the beginning of the academic year. After all, it happens at colleges around the country on every weekend of the year.

But numbers alone do not tell the severity of the issue. Consider, for example what it means to be so intoxicated with alcohol that you need to be hospitalized. In many cases, it means that had students not been transported, they would have suffered permanent serious injuries and possibly died from an overdose.

Such cases also beg the question, why are students taking six shots of vodka in an hour in the first place? Answers that only justify such actions with academic pressure and the freedom of college are naive ones. Students drink for many reasons but, ultimately, they drink excessively because they are insecure—either with who they are at the moment or with the problems and issues they have to face each day.

Nearly a year has passed since this university woke up to the dangers of alcohol abuse, when it realized that nine students being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning on the night of Pachanga last fall is unacceptable. And nearly a year has gone by without any changes in policy or new programs to address the issue.

Some believe that the Alcohol and Drug Policy Committee was formed simply for publicity purposes, recognizing that there is little adults can do to prevent binge drinking on a college campus.

But they are wrong. The Committee can actively seek out student involvement from different social and party cliques on campus, including athletics, Greek life, Community Living and the Student Union to determine when students get into trouble with alcohol, and what situations and responses will minimize their risk and maximize the protection of their safety.

Such a committee cannot afford to get caught up in the politics of an administration or the fear of promoting a positive public relations appearance. It simply needs to take bold initiatives, think outside the box and view this moment as a time to lead our community.

The university’s senior administration welcomed three new leaders this summer, including a new senior vice president for students and enrollment, provost and dean of arts and sciences.

If these new leaders were looking for their first major project at Brandeis, we believe they have found it. They should view the past two weekends as a sign of the challenge Brandeis and all colleges face when it comes to underage drinking in dorm rooms and fraternity parties.

The solution lies in reasonable and productive discussion. Inefficient committees won’t get us there.