University policies on alcohol and drugs

How does Washington University compare?

We all got the talk freshman year: Be responsible with alcohol, steer clear of drugs and don't disturb the community. We got a crash course in Wash. U. alcohol and drug policy, memorized the number for the Emergency Support Team and -in most cases-found a way to make our own lifestyle preferences work in the Wash. U. environment.

But how do other schools manage alcohol and drug use, and where does Wash. U. stand in comparison? Alcohol and drug issues are a top priority at American universities, and each school deals with them differently. Some schools publish (and enforce) thesis-length policies with detailed rules and sanction procedures; others prefer a low-interference approach and let students govern themselves.

Interviews with students at various universities and a review of schools' stated policies suggest that Wash. U. falls on the lenient end of the spectrum.

The conservative extreme, as you might expect, is mostly made up of religious schools. Biola University in Southern

California, for example, does not allow students of any age to possess or consume alcohol either on or off campus, according to their published student handbook. Violation of this and other rules can result in expulsion.

Villanova University's 2007-2008 student handbook details specific sanctions for different types of policy violations. For example, students using beer kegs or similar "common containers" of alcohol in a dorm room will automatically be put on probation, lose campus residency and be fined $500-that is, $500 per roommate living in the room where the keg was found. Drug use gets an even stronger sentence. At Villanova, marijuana use results in an automatic fine of $750 and, at minimum, probation. Second-time offenders are expelled.

The habit of punishing drug use more severely than alcohol use reflects a trend in federal law, and is common at universities on either end of the policy spectrum. But it doesn't hold true at every university.

For example, University of California at Santa Cruz Residential Advisor Christopher Spencer noted that his school's practices seem to push for stricter enforcement of alcohol abuse. This year's U.C.S.C. undergraduate handbook sums up the school's policy by saying that the goal is to make sure alcohol and drugs don't interfere with learning.

A similar philosophy guides policies at many schools, emphasizing a low-interference approach that is similar to Wash. U.'s written guidelines. Alison Cohen, a junior at Brown University who served on the school's recently created Subcommittee on Alcohol and Other Drugs, said Brown chooses to let students make their own choices whenever possible as long as no one is harmed.

"In general, we emphasize personal responsibility and harm reduction at Brown as opposed to penal approaches," said Cohen.

Margaret Klawunn, Brown's associate vice president of campus life and dean for student life, also emphasized student responsibility.

"We put a lot of stock in the resources available to students on campus," said Klawunn. "We also have an amnesty policy for accessing medical services."

Similar policies are in effect at Wash. U., as well as many other national universities. University of Pennsylvania alum Molly Gallagher cited the amnesty policy as one of the things she liked most about Penn's approach to alcohol issues.

"I think that a really great thing that Penn did is to have a no-punishment policy where if you drink too much or your friend is drunk, you won't get in trouble if you go to someone about it," said Gallagher. "You should never fear repercussions if you take action."

Many schools struggle to find a balance between imposing appropriate rules and granting students freedom of choice. According to Notre Dame Magazine, the University of Notre Dame took heavy criticism from students for making its alcohol policy stricter in 2002. The university banned popular residence hall dances due to their history of promoting alcohol consumption, and students rallied in protest. Editorials in the magazine predicted that the new policy would simply cause an increase in off-campus drinking.

Gallagher echoed this sentiment, saying that students will find creative ways to get around any rule. At Penn's "Spring Fling," an annual concert much like our spring W.I.L.D., Gallagher said campus officials tend to crack down on alcohol much more than usual and pat students down to check for containers.