Column | Dec. 4
I’ve been blared awake by a tripped fire alarm several times in the middle of night, been fined twice for propping my means of egress and learned during the fire talk of frosh week the dangers of contraband candles and unattached microwaves. When it comes to fire safety, like Jason, I don’t agree that every aspect of the regulations is necessarily worth the priority that the University gives it. Yet, I don’t agree that alcohol safety is “presented in a more lax light, based in large part on a policy of self-responsibility.”
Yes, alcohol policy relies more on self-responsibility than the fire policy. After all, we don’t have alcohol inspectors that can come into our dorms without warning to dole out fines for specific unsafe behaviors. Contrary to Jason, I do not believe this policy of self-responsibility is “lax.” Instead, it is consistent with promoting student welfare. Jason implies that fire safety and alcohol safety are governed by the same principles and that what works in fire safety will work in alcohol safety.
Top-down regulation makes sense for fire safety. With the exception of door propping, which has yet to convince students that the danger outweighs the convenience, most students learn after the first fine that candles, toasters and microwaves aren’t worth the penalty. It is hard to imagine a similar situation occurring if the University tamped down on alcohol in the dorms. After all, no one believes that prohibition of alcohol would prevent drinking; just ask the 18th amendment. Alcohol safety is more about moderation than prevention.
We are college kids, not yet “real-world,” but no longer living at home. It makes sense that the University would educate us about safe alcohol use, but then leave us to make our own decisions and even a few of our own mistakes. Self-responsibility with alcohol use is recognition that each of us has the ability to control where and how the night takes us.
Though everyone can do their part to reduce the risk of fires, fire safety is not subject to the same self-responsibility standards. A dorm fire, as unlikely as it is, can pose a threat to other students in the dorm; dangerous drinking contains the risk within the individual. This is not to say that high-risk drinking does not have high consequences for the individual. It can. Nor that the intoxicated do not occasionally harm property or other people. They do. Rather, the University does not have the same liability issues for students who drink.
A comparison of the stats of fires at Princeton vs. referrals for liquor law violations neglects the fact that more students drink alcohol on a regular basis than light fires in their rooms. Though the goal of no high-risk drinking should always be the priority, we shouldn’t interpret alcohol stats as a failure on the part of the University to promote student safety.
Princeton University’s alcohol policy balances safety with the realities of college life. The University acknowledges that not all drinking is bad; it is just some drinking behaviors that should be banned. It targets high-risk drinking, drinking from common sources, alcohol-induced disorderliness, pregaming and drinking games. Students have the resources to learn about alcohol safety during Frosh Week, alcoholEdu and zee group conversations. Residential college adviers go on rounds on the weekends and remain on-call throughout the night. The Street is open almost every weekend to students who can find a least a few clubs open to PUID. The Street is within walking distance — which means the University doesn’t need to prioritize designated driver education — and doesn’t serve hard alcohol during Street hours. Most importantly, students cannot get in trouble for being drunk or from needing medical instance and are required to take students who do need help to McCosh Health Center. The combination of these policies earned the University a B in terms of drug and alcohol policy from Students for Sensible Drug Policy. In particular, an open medical amnesty was a cornerstone to achieving a higher grade from SSDP.
Consider the effect of a stricter alcohol policy. Completely banning alcohol, or more realistically banning underage students from the eating clubs, would likely only lead to higher-risk drinking in dorm rooms as pregames turn into THE game. Instead of reducing high-risk drinking, a top-down policy would almost certainly increase risk.
I am fully aware that students still engage in high-risk drinking and that this risk should be minimized. I disagree that fire safety is over-prioritized at the expense of alcohol safety. Rather, the University’s alcohol policy does a good job of managing student risk while still allowing college kids to be college kids.
Rebecca Kreutter is a Wilson School major from Singapore, Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.