World-class professors, a rich array of extracurriculars, engaging classes, and countless career opportunities — these are probably the things that come to mind when most people think of a Penn education. These are the qualities of this university that you will find on campus tours and admissions packets.
What is less discussed is the real drinking culture at the “social Ivy,” and how, as it stands, Penn’s alcohol policy fails to protect its students from the dangers of binge drinking.
Last semester, in a separate column, I broke down numbers: Approximately 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Researchers estimate that 1,825 college students die per year from alcohol-related injuries, 696,000 students are assaulted by another who has been drinking, and 97,000 experience date rape or alcohol-related sexual assault.
A lot of us are numb to these statistics. We already know that Penn, and many of its peer institutions, drink in excess. Whether we like it or not, that isn’t going anywhere. But it’s time we think more critically about the effectiveness of the administration’s approach to Penn’s drinking problem.
Possession and consumption of alcohol by students under 21 is prohibited on Penn’s campus. This ignores the fact that underage drinking will persist on campus. Penn isn’t immune to college drinking habits.
Stanford University has a much different alcohol policy, which allows all students to consume alcohol, provided that they leave their doors open. This is intended to promote more responsible drinking habits and prevent alcohol-related deaths and injuries.
In a statement to The Stanford Daily, Ralph Castro, the director of Stanford's alcohol education office, said, “We take an educational approach, wherein we educate students about accountability for bad choices, and expect them to make legal and healthy decisions … The open-door label is an unofficial term used by students; our intention is to build community in residences that encourage responsible behaviour among peers.”
Penn’s adoption of a similar policy would result in a safer drinking environment. By taking a more active role to address binge drinking early on in students’ careers, the administration could potentially avoid the escalation of recreational drinking to a more serious issue. An open-door policy would also promote a more healthy, honest relationship between residential advisors and their residents.
In 2016, Stanford also implemented a hard-alcohol ban that banned shots at on-campus parties. Although this was initially met with criticism, data shows that it resulted in a significant drop in freshman drinking and hospital transports. Our Ivy peer, Dartmouth College, instituted a similar ban.
Last semester, the Penn administration announced the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus’ recommendations. These included a shot ban, as well as a four-mixed-drinks limit. Unlike Stanford, however, this strict alcohol policy is not supplemented by an open-door rule that acknowledges the occurrence of underage drinking. What’s more, Penn students are able to circumvent these policies with sophisticated fake IDs purchased on the internet.
A university’s primary responsibility should be to its students. After all, administrators are not police officers. It is Penn’s job to prepare us in our educations and social lives for the challenges and decisions we will be forced to make in the real world. Banning the consumption of all alcohol among students under 21 is unrealistic. The administration’s focus on prohibition isn’t doing us any favors. It inevitably has resulted in binge drinking in unsafe environments.
Don’t get me wrong, drinking on college campuses is a difficult issue to navigate. No alcohol policy is perfect, but Penn’s doesn’t even try to be. There aren’t a whole lot of concrete things that can be done to change this school for the better. Revising the University’s stance on alcohol consumption offers the unique opportunity to have an honest conversation about how Penn drinks, and reform our drinking culture.
The Class of 2022 could have a much healthier relationship with alcohol than students in my own year and our predecessors. But it’s up to the administration to make that happen.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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