Brooks: Let Them Drink
By David Brooks, Staff Columnist
Published on Friday, August 3, 2012
Gentlemen, lowering alcohol-related incidents will require a more permissive drinking environment.” So began a presentation that I had been tasked to give. Because of high levels of alcohol-related incidents, the commanding general of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing had ordered all subordinate groups to create symposiums with their squadrons, led by a sergeant and involving all non-commissioned officers in the group.
Underage drinking is a problem in the Marine Corps that is usually punished severely. If caught, a junior Marine can expect anything from loss of rank, restriction and extra duty for up to 45 days, pay cut in half for up to 60 days or all three. Losing rank is especially hard to overcome and can set a Marine’s career back for years.
So what has been the effect of a stringent alcohol policy in the Marine Corps? Marines generally pregame work functions, throw parties in their barracks away from prying eyes and drink at friends’ houses (sound familiar?). This has contributed to high rates of alcoholism, domestic violence, drunk driving and a host of other problems related to unsafe drinking that plague the military. The reaction of most commanders is to punish the offenders automatically. Marines are to act like Marines. So you can imagine the incredulous looks shot my way when I suggested we lessen the severity of our reaction to underage drinking.
But I continued to hammer away at the following question in my brief: “Is what we’re doing working?” All of the strict punishments and condemnations failed to lower alcohol-related incidents. In fact, I believe some of these measures not only increased alcohol-related incidents but also jeopardized the safety of our Marines.
The recently proposed changes to the College’s alcohol policy brought these thoughts back to mind. Increasing punishments for serving punch, instating unannounced walkthroughs and requiring bartenders to serve all alcohol are not going to stop students from drinking underage. Instead, these policies will push students toward unsafe drinking practices.
During my brief, I asked my commanders, “How many of you here drank underage?” Every hand went up. “Gentlemen, did the rules stop you?” Tightening the reins of our alcohol policy will neither prevent students from drinking nor create a safer drinking environment.
I’m not arguing the College can or should turn a blind eye to underage drinking, but there are better policies that can be put in place. For example, Green Team funding should be increased, and the administration should encourage campus groups to utilize Green Team as often as possible. Also, the Good Samaritan policy should be available over the summer, and its procedures should be revised to exclude Hanover Police from being contacted. I have had friends hesitate to Good Sam a friend who clearly needed help because of fear of repercussions. No one should have to decide between keeping a friend out of trouble and helping a friend in need.
Some may argue that my proposals are just caving in to students. Just because students are going to drink doesn’t mean we should let them. Well then, what is the purpose of the new alcohol policies? If it is to stop underage drinking and alcohol-related incidents, then these policies will not address these goals and might in fact create new problems. Is the purpose of the policies to punish underage drinkers? I doubt it, but if it is, then these changes are surely just the first of many to come. If, however, “the primary concern of the alcohol policy is the health and safety of members of the College community,” as stated in the Dartmouth student handbook, then these policies will not only fail to accomplish that task, but they will also have the exact opposite effect. In light of the recent press regarding hazing and the continuing problems with drinking and sexual assault, I understand that changes to the alcohol policy need to be made. However,it seems that some of these changes are more for appearances than for results. Changes should be made through expanding and strengthening what works while keeping in mind the health and safety of our community.