WHILE MANY colleges and universities have serious problems with binge drinking and sexual assault on campus, few have tackled the issue as directly — and as boldly — as Dartmouth has. In a recent speech, university president Phil Hanlon outlined a series of measures that would place restrictions on almost every aspect of the school’s social life. While his proposed reforms could go a long way toward promoting a safer environment for students, a cultural change is needed to actually solve the problems afflicting campus life at the Ivy League college.
Dartmouth has long been known as a party school. But a series of scandals, from a Rolling Stone article detailing abusive hazing rituals at one of the college’s fraternities to numerous reports of sexual assaults, has tarnished the school’s reputation; there was a 14 percent drop in applications two years ago. Dartmouth’s latest effort to clean up its image, called Moving Dartmouth Forward, underscores how seriously the administration takes the issue. Starting in the spring semester, no student will be allowed to have hard alcohol on campus. More changes are due in the coming academic year: Pledging will be banned, a new code of conduct will be introduced, a mandatory sexual assault education program will be implemented, and every residential student organization will be subject to an annual review. The plan also calls for all social events to have bartenders and bouncers.
Hanlon’s initiative will probably help to keep students safe — at least to a certain extent. Fraternities have long contributed to problem drinking on campus at Dartmouth, and they are often the venues where sexual assaults take place. Having professional bartenders pour drinks is a sensible way to help ensure that drunk students don’t get overserved, or that drinks don’t get spiked. Forcing fraternities and sororities to undergo a yearly review could encourage them to pay closer attention to campus rules.
But it would be foolish to assume that stricter regulation will solve Dartmouth’s problems, or that the Greek system is the root cause of all of the college’s ills. The problem at Dartmouth is cultural. For many students, binge drinking is part of the ethos. New rules won’t change that. It’s up to students to solve the fundamental problems that are eroding campus life at Dartmouth. If Hanlon’s policies force undergraduates to re-evaluate the school’s social life, that is certainly for the good.