Indiana Daily Student

OPED: A dry campus is not a safe campus

Ask any IU student for the two crucial components that make the Little 500 race what it is, and they would likely answer: bicycles and alcohol.

It is incoherent then that IU brands itself as a dry campus. This contradiction makes IU a less safe campus, and it is high time that it changed.

IU’s campus policy prohibits public intoxication, use or possession of alcohol on university property, including dorms, fraternities and and sororities.

According to the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct, students older than 21 years of age who live either on-campus or in greek housing may be allowed to consume alcohol provided they are supervised and seek permission from the dean of students — this seems unlikely. IU has little capacity to police student behavior off-campus.

IU is not alone in this policy. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health notes that nearly one in three American colleges ban alcohol with most concentrating in the Midwest and the South. However, this policy has the wrong priority. In targeting overall alcohol consumption instead of dangerous consumption or binge drinking, IU’s policy undercuts its own efficiency.

An authoritative 2008 study showed that while students at dry campuses consumed less alcohol than students at wet campuses, among those who did drink, binge drinkers were similarly prevalent at dry and wet campuses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of the alcohol consumed by those underage was done in the form of binge drinking. Additionally, an IU-Purdue-Indianapolis study shows that binge drinking among young adults in 10 Indiana counties increased after they turned 21 instead of declining as seen in previous statistics.

This is a problem begging for a fix, but abstinence is more a pipe dream than a policy.

IU could learn from the United States's history. In 1920, the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution made the U.S. a dry country. It decreased alcohol consumption to between 60-70% of the pre-prohibition amount but hardly eradicated it.

The lesson to be taken away is that while IU’s policy likely decreases alcohol consumption as Prohibition did, it cannot eradicate underage drinking, much less overall student drinking. Indeed, alcohol consumption is determined by factors such as the low cost of alcohol, the need to fit in, and greek life membership, and IU has no intentions of changing these components.  

However, the dry campus policy is not only ineffective, it actively makes IU students less safe.

In 2014, the University of Kentucky relaxed its dry campus policy noting that it simply made students drink off campus. The same phenomenon is present at IU. This makes drinking more dangerous for these students.

The IDS’s Editorial Board said in a recent editorial, “Don’t leave your friends alone if they are in an incapacitated state. Make sure they get to their final destination safely and are under the supervision of someone trustworthy.” This well-meaning piece of advice could be less stressful if the destination were a few steps away should the dry campus policy be relaxed.

The dry campus policy is not a way through which IU promotes responsibility then as much as a tool by which to abdicate their own responsibility in keeping students safe. Turning a blind eye is easier than instituting structural changes, but that is exactly what is needed.

A more evidence-based policy would recognize that consumption is both not the enemy and unavoidable. It would scrap the dry campus policy and abstinence-based policies in pursuit of ones focused on harm reduction and changing student attitudes regarding drinking, in line with what experts have found to be effective.

Instead of being a dry campus, one solution is IU should have a campus bar. Historically, student unions have often boasted of them. A campus bar could even help monitor and prevent binge drinking, reduce DUIs and DUI-related deaths, decrease rates of sexual assault, etc.

Most of all, it is critical that IU realize the failure of its dry campus policy and the desperate need for change.

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