Given the tightly interconnected world we live in nowadays, it isn’t surprising that Brown University’s recent decision to ban liquor in all campus resident halls for the upcoming spring semester produced a student response almost immediately. What is perhaps more interesting, is that because the story caught the attention of at least one major media source, the story simultaneously went national. But, according to Mark Nickel, a communications spokesperson for Brown, at least some of the information they reported needs some amplification.
BloombergBusiness blogged an article reporting that two Brown fraternities were charged with allowing date-rape drugs to be used during one of their fall parties. While the fraternities denied the accusations and no individuals were specifically charged, a Brown panel consisting of a student, a faculty member and an administrator found both houses must be held culpable “for creating an environment that facilitated sexual misconduct through improperly monitored space and inadequate safeguards surrounding the service of alcohol.” The panel then came down hard on the two fraternities, suspending one for a year and a half and the second for four full years. But additionally, in a move that will dramatically alter campus life at Brown for the next few months, the school will ban all resident house parties with alcohol service while the school uses the time to formulate a more comprehensive on-campus drinking policy. The story quoted Nickel as explaining that the ban is part of broader efforts to intensify sexual assault prevention.
According to the Bloomberg report, Brown is the latest school to try and crack down on fraternity drinking and sexual violence. Over the past three years, the U.S. Department of Education has launched more than 97 individual investigations into how specific colleges and universities handle their sexual assault cases.
Many of the schools being cited by the government have already complied with stricter federal regulations in part over fear of losing federal funding. Brown certainly receives significant monies for government sponsored research, hence their need to pay attention.
Not surprisingly however, there has been some push back from Brown students about the ban. The Brown Daily Herald ran an editorial that questioned whether the restrictions of parties on-campus, regardless of how well intended, might instead produce the unintended consequence of “driving drinking underground leading people to pre-game parties where they get drunk quickly.” In addition, the editorial warned that the policy could actually “lead to a jump in reckless drinking and sexual assaults, which are much harder to police and prevent.”
Nearby residents in College Hill and Fox Point have also begun looking for clarification from the school as to the specifics of the new policy. “Just what we need, more late night bar hopping on Thayer Street,” groused one. Others, in emails to East Side Monthly, recalled a period of out-of-control off-campus parties not too long ago, particularly on Barnes and Williams Streets, that fortunately no longer occur.
Nickel suggests that at least some of the concern raised by both the students and nearby community may be overstated. In a letter that the university sent out its students on January 30, the school explained that the drinking ban does not apply to casual “individual drinking or informal gatherings among students.” Alcohol is only forbidden in “parties sponsored by Greek organizations and program houses, parties involving 100 or more students and events that require a city permit to sell alcohol.” Nickel did acknowledge however that as long as permission is granted in advance and the event is held in an appropriate space by a Brown student group in good standing, the ban does not apply.
While understanding community concern that party goers might seek out off campus venues instead, Nickel reiterated that the university is not shirking any of its responsibilities in terms of insisting off-campus students behave in a responsible fashion. The letter that was emailed to the entire student body reminded them that “all students living off campus are expected to adhere to Brown’s code of student conduct and city ordinances.”
And what of rumors that the students who can no longer remain as residents in the closed fraternity house are being relocated to off-site future “party houses”? These Nickel feels are inaccurate. “Most of the students currently living in the fraternity have been reassigned to other dormitory rooms on the campus.”
Dillon O’Carroll, a senior at Brown, feels that the alcohol restriction for on-campus parties “is a band aid at best” and needs to be part of a more comprehensive program. He spoke of one alternative that is gaining at least some traction which involves planned events off campus, primarily downtown, that provide transportation to and from the event sites to insure more safety for the students and less disruption to the adjoining neighborhood.
As the old Beastie Boys song says: “You’ve got to fight for your right to party.” To which Brown now adds the word “responsibly.”