February 5, 2012

Seeking Alternatives To High-Risk Drinking

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On Saturday, Cornell hosted the Blackout Party on North Campus, and on Super Bowl Sunday, students were able to purchase beer and wine from a pub in Willard Straight Hall for the first time since the 1980s. Both events had admirable intentions: to lower the amount of high-risk drinking that occurs on campus. However, the results of these events, as well as the results of other University initiatives to curb high-risk drinking, have so far been mixed. The University must take the lessons learned from this weekend’s events and apply them to its future efforts to address this deep-rooted problem.

The administration has embarked on an ambitious initiative to reduce students’ high-risk drinking, instituting a policy barring freshmen from attending fraternity parties with alcohol. The University has made a commendable effort to address student concerns about the amount and quality of programming during weekend nights. Nevertheless, a survey in November found that 62 percent of high-risk freshman drinkers still consumed alcohol at fraternity parties, indicating that a considerable amount of work remains to be done.

On the one hand, the Bear’s Den pub has great potential to reduce the amount of high-risk drinking. Though the pub will only serve drinks on four occasions this semester pending a liquor license, the pub was open for business on Sunday, serving a crowd of 500 students during the Super Bowl game. Those over 21 could purchase drinks and casually enjoy them in the company of those not yet old enough to buy them. Though it is still too early to tell whether the pub will ultimately be successful, the combination of creative student-driven programming and the regulated alcoholic environment has potential to create a safe alternative on weekend nights.

Friday’s sparsely-attended Blackout Party, on the other hand, clearly shows the challenges that await the University as it embarks on this initiative. Those seeking to curb freshman drinking cannot simply dim the lights in a room in Robert Purcell Community Center, add music and expect freshmen to line up outside the door. The only solution is engaging programming that creates true buy-in from freshmen. This sort of solution is elusive, and finding it is clearly going to be a long process involving a great deal of trial and error.

The task on which the University has embarked is a daunting and difficult one, and the solution is contingent upon the creative use of programming formulated by students. By fostering an appealing atmosphere, the University can create an environment where students can enjoy themselves responsibly. A regulated party where students overage can drink in the company of underclassmen has shown potential. A dry, freshman-only event is not a complete solution.