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Dartmouth College Places Ban on Hard Alcohol

Dartmouth College

Baker Memorial Library at Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College is banning hard alcohol from its campus and putting its notoriously rowdy fraternities on notice that they need to reform or disband, in the latest move by an elite school to crack down on a party culture that has been closely tied to sexual assault.

Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon on Thursday delivered a speech to faculty and students in which he laid out his plan to cope with a rising tide of complaints that have tarnished the school’s reputation and weighed on new applications at a time when most Ivy League schools are soaring in popularity.

“There are high stakes for Dartmouth,” Mr. Hanlon said in an interview Tuesday. “This is a small, intimate place—so when a student harms another student or themselves, it really tears this place apart.”

Earlier this month, Brown University banned alcohol in fraternities and announced plans for a comprehensive review of its alcohol policy this spring as part of the school’s “intensified efforts to prevent and address sexual assault.”

The University of Virginia this month restricted hard alcohol atfraternity parties following a Rolling Stone article about a gang rape at a fraternity party. The article was later discredited.

And at the start of this academic year Swarthmore College banned hard alcohol from campus events as well as drinking games and drinking paraphernalia in an effort to create “a comfortable and coercion-free atmosphere,” according to the school.

Nationally, 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries and 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Once dominated by wealthy, white men the student bodies at colleges and universities across the nation are now nearly 60% female and 40% nonwhite and some students believe institutional norms haven’t kept pace with the changing demographics.

The failure of schools to properly handle sexual assault investigations began to come under scrutiny about four years ago after the Obama administration issued aggressive new guidance on how schools should handle sexual violence under Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination and mandates schools are responsible to handle cases in a “prompt and equitable” manner. The Justice Department is currently investigating nearly 100 schools—including some of the nation’s most prestigious—for improperly handling complaints.

Dartmouth’s fraternity row has long been associated with the bawdy culture that is now the focus of so much scrutiny. Fraternity brothers and alumni say the clubs are a source of enormous pride as well as academic and social support during and after college. Nationally, membership in both fraternities and sororities is at record levels.

Faculty requests to close fraternities and rein in the drinking culture at Dartmouth have issued for decades and come to nothing. They resurfaced again and took on added gravity when a series of sexual assaults preceded a 14% drop in applications two years ago. Last April, Mr. Hanlon announced that “enough was enough” and created a task force to oversee a course correction at the school.

Mr. Hanlon’s 6-page plan is a series of directives largely absent of detail. It calls for a four-year sexual violence prevention education program and a “consent manual,” which is to include “realistic scenarios and potential sanctions to reduce ambiguity about what is and what is not acceptable.”

The mandate echoes a California law passed in September when it became the first state to enact a so-called yes-means-yes rule during consensual sexual activity. The law calls for “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” that is “ongoing through a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”

Also in the plan, labeled “Move Dartmouth Forward,” is a requirement for bouncers and bartenders to be present at social events and the creation of a new code of conduct that will outline behavior to classmates including civilly, dignity and diversity.

In addition, all residential student organizations will have to undergo an annual review to demonstrate they are promoting inclusivity.

“If in the next three to five years, the Greek system does not engage in meaningful, lasting reform and we are unsuccessful in sharply curbing harmful behaviors, we will need to revisit its continuation on our campus,” Mr. Hanlon said.

Wall Street Journal


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