Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon announced on January 29 that alcoholic beverages that are more than 15 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) would be prohibited from Dartmouth’s campus beginning this spring. The announcement has sparked discussion about the role of hard alcohol on college campuses around the country, with the debate proceeding along these lines: Administrators and health experts argue that limiting hard alcohol consumption reduces binge drinking and makes campuses safer. Detractors claim that hard alcohol bans are evidence of college administrators becoming increasingly paternalistic. After a similar policy went into effect at Bowdoin in the late 1990s, the College became a safer place to drink.

Much of the coverage of Dartmouth’s new ban makes reference to Bowdoin, which was one of the first schools to enact such a policy. Bowdoin prohibits the possession of hard liquor with an alcohol content of more than 10 percent ABV, while permitting beer, wine, malt beverages and hard cider. Both Amherst and Williams prohibit hard alcohol at registered events, with a few exceptions. Hamilton banned it briefly, but lifted the ban in 2012. Of the 11 NESCAC schools, only Bates, Colby and Bowdoin have banned hard alcohol entirely.

Bowdoin’s policy provides a strong deterrent to having hard alcohol at campus-wide parties that we believe protects students from overconsumption. Whereas a typical mixed drink like jungle juice—which contains an unknown amount of alcohol—might be served at parties at other schools, it is relatively uncommon at Bowdoin. That is not to say that one cannot find hard alcohol on campus. Students often binge drink in their rooms before attending larger parties, and opponents of prohibiting hard alcohol argue that bans encourage rather than deter such dangerous behavior. However, if students do choose to pre-game with hard alcohol, at least they are making their own drinks in a controlled environment, rather than consuming mystery drinks in the midst of a chaotic party.

In recent years, Bowdoin has had a low number of student transports and last year had the lowest in the NESCAC. Although this statistic is also attributable to other factors, the College’s policy certainly helps foster a healthier drinking culture. A ban on hard alcohol alone cannot create a safe campus party environment, but it is an important step in the right direction. 

Enacting a policy that moderates the behavior of college students is not an easy task, and even Bowdoin’s time-tested ban is not without its downsides. But by and large, our experiences at the College have confirmed that banning hard alcohol is more responsible than it is paternalistic. Each year roughly the same number of U.S. college students die from alcohol-related causes as are enrolled at Bowdoin, and although there may be other ways to prevent these deaths, banning hard alcohol should not be overlooked as a potential solution. It took a tragic death in the late 1990s for Bowdoin to reassess its drinking culture, and today’s students are better off as a result. We hope that the recent national attention given to Dartmouth’s actions will encourage other schools to consider similar policies.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Sam Chase, Matthew Gutschenritter, Nicole Wetsman and Kate Witteman.