Dartmouth Reports Progress on Alcohol

Hanover — Dartmouth College is highlighting statistics that suggest its students are binge drinking less often, or at least with less intensity.

This week, the Dartmouth College Health Improvement Program reported that for the third straight fall term, there was a decline in reported alcohol-related incidents on campus. That includes fewer alcohol-related calls to the college’s Safety and Security Office, fewer student “medical encounters for intoxication” at either the college infirmary or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and fewer students registering blood-alcohol content readings of above .25, which is three times the legal limit to drive.

While the trend started in 2011, officials and students this year are crediting a change in social policy at fraternities and sororities for contributing to the continued decline in dangerous drinking.

Beginning last semester, the college’s Greek Leadership Council instituted a formal prohibition on first-year students attending parties where alcohol was present during the first six weeks of the academic year, through Homecoming Weekend.

“From talking with the fraternity presidents, they said that the parties were easier to manage this fall, a little bit more under control,” senior Gunnar Shaw, president of the Intrafraternity Council, said on Tuesday. “That’s an impression a lot of people had. It’s a step in the right direction. … It was a change that students wanted to make.”

While college officials acknowledge they have yet to establish a direct correlation between Dartmouth’s range of prevention measures and the apparent decline in high-risk drinking, acting Hanover Police Chief Francis Moran said on Tuesday that anecdotally, his department had noticed a difference.

“A few years ago, we were using so many resources picking up young people who were intoxicated,” Moran said. “Without digging into any statistics we have, I would concur that things seem to be better than they have been. That could be attributable to the stance they’ve been taking at the college the last few years. They’re doing a better job with it.”

Dartmouth has been making progress on at-risk drinking since 2011, when the college joined a network of institutions in the National College Health Improvement Program. The college experimented with a number of mostly voluntary measures to combat binge drinking, including “motivational” interviews with students at the infirmary about their drinking habits; screening students who are cited for violating alcohol-consumption rules; more consistent sanctions of campus organizations for serving alcohol irresponsibly or for encouraging drinking; and a “Good Samaritan” system that allows students to report intoxicated peers to campus security with out fear of facing disciplinary action.

“The steady drop in high blood-alcohol cases is encouraging, but we know there is more work to be done,” Aurora Matzkin, a 1997 Dartmouth alumna who directs health promotions on campus, said Tuesday while presenting the fall-term findings to a gathering of student leaders and administrators. “The decision by GLC to implement the initiative is exactly the kind of student-led action that can produce real campus change.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.