Ahead of a nationwide ban, the University of Washington has prohibited alcohol above 15 percent ABV – hard liquors – at fraternity events and on chapter property. The policy is handed down from the North American Interfraternity Conference, which justified the change by explaining that “nearly all hazing and over-consumption deaths in the past two years have involved students consuming high-percentage alcohol beverages.” Officially beginning in September of 2019, the decision will affect all of NIC’s 6,100+ organizations across 800 college campuses. UW has elected to put it into effect a semester early.
Since enacting the ban in January, UW’s IFC president Erik Johnson says they’ve already seen a difference in the college’s party scene.
“We’re seeing a lot less hard alcohol being served at chapter property and chapter events, and we’re really advocating for safer consumption of hard alcohol.”
The new policy has generated a variety of responses from the student body – some state that it will just encourage binge drinking of beer or wine, while others believe it will curb participation in collegiate blackout culture.
Success Rates of Banning Alcohol on Campus
Many highly ranked universities, such as Stanford and Dartmouth, have famously enacted their own bans on alcohol. Because many of these policies are fairly new (Dartmouth’s dates to 2015, and Stanford’s to 2016), data on their effectiveness is limited. Harvard University’s College Alcohol Study examined the bans and found that students attending these schools were 30% less likely to be heavy episodic drinkers. They were also more likely to abstain from alcohol overall. This applied to students at schools with full alcohol prohibition; the data is less clear for colleges with partial bans – for example, UW’s new policy barring hard liquor only. Further research will be needed to determine the impact specific to Washington, but it indicates a positive step for collegians nationwide.
College Binge Drinking and Media Influence
Regardless of the ban’s effectiveness, it’s important that responsible community members and administrators do their part to control collegiate party culture. While many people hold the belief that those suffering from alcoholism are middle aged, in reality, most of those affected by alcohol dependence are between the ages of 18 and 24. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, and those enrolled in college drink more than their non-collegiate counterparts.
In a way, the expectations that society sets – think of films like Animal House and Superbad – condition young adults for disordered use of drugs and alcohol. Instead of consistently educating teens about moderation or abstention, schools and parents tend to avoid the subject altogether, while the media speaks loudly and clearly about what happens at college parties. Research indicates that those messages in popular culture, from movies to commercials, have a strong correlation with higher alcohol consumption in young adults. The collective silence about underage binge drinking, combined with media bias and peer pressure to overindulge, don’t set up collegians for success.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Only time will tell whether UW’s alcohol ban will bring down incidences of binge drinking to a more manageable level. The local impact of this decision will set the tone for other, similar universities opting to enact the policy months after UW’s takes effect. Above all, this fraternity legislation is a positive sign of accountability and forward thinking for campuses nationwide. Hopefully with further preventative measures and comprehensive education, the risk surrounding college blackout culture will gradually lessen over time.
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