Verbum Ultimum: Destructive Distrust
By The Dartmouth Editorial Board
Published on Friday, September 14, 2012
Over the summer, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson introduced a number of new harm reduction policies with the stated goal of mitigating threats to the health and safety of the student body by addressing the problem of binge drinking. Her proposals, some of which are slated to take effect Sept. 21, have been met with resentment and criticism from many sections of campus both for their content and the manner of their delivery. Although the administration and Greek leaders have made some headway in recent weeks in finding common ground, the continuing disagreement and unwillingness on the part of both sides to fully consider other points of view has made it unlikely that they will work effectively to combat unsafe drinking on this campus.
If the administration is truly concerned with student well-being, then the operative test of any new alcohol policy is the degree to which it reduces the incidence of extreme binge drinking. The Dean of the College Office has substantially weakened its own credibility by failing to make a concrete, data-driven argument for the potential efficacy of the new proposals with due consideration of the potential for negative side effects students have raised — including the danger of increased drinking in private spaces. There has been no effort to present the student body with explicit indicators of a widespread campus drinking problem, such as statistics on the frequency of intoxication-related visits to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and the administration has further failed to put forth tangible goals beyond a vague desire for “harm reduction.” Students remain in the dark as to what metrics will be used to evaluate the program’s success over time. This lack of transparency significantly contributes to a perception that the administration’s first priority is to appear tough on Greek houses rather than to protect the students.
At the same time, students have a counterproductive tendency to instantly greet new attempts at social reform with immediate suspicion and outright hostility. While in day-to-day conversations students may couch their arguments in terms of health and safety, often the underlying motive for knee-jerk opposition is a desire to protect a status quo still plagued by some unsafe practices. The fact of the matter is that the student body has thus far failed to take sufficient accountability for unsafe practices occurring in Greek houses. The administration has a legitimate interest in ensuring the health and safety of everyone at this college, and even though students may sometimes see the dean’s actions as out-of-touch and counterproductive, the student body must at times accept the much-needed impetus for change.
The mutual distrust between students and administrators has created a vicious cycle of animosity and misunderstanding. Overreliance on nebulous and private “data” proved to be a weakness of College President Jim Yong Kim’s tenure, and we implore the administration to release specific information regarding both the motivations for and the goals of these policies. Students, however, must also remain more open to reform, as the current system has proven unable to quell widespread concerns regarding student safety.