In response to rising rates of alcohol-induced student hospitalizations, university administrators have introduced a stricter alcohol policy this semester, speeding up the process that puts underage drinkers on probation.
Underage students who are found in violation of the policy for the first time will be placed under level-one disciplinary probation, or pro-one, in which students’ eligibility for things from membership of Greek houses to resident assistantships may be revoked. Last year, first-time violators received only a warning.
The new alcohol policy keeps up last year’s “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy.
“Do I think that the use of alcohol on campus is out of control?” Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman said. “Yes, I think it is, and we would not be responsible as a community if we did not address dangerous drinking.”
Under the new policy, students who commit a second alcohol violation will be placed under level-two disciplinary probation, pro-two, which involves parental notification. Third violations will result in a one-year suspension or forced medical leave from the university.
“While I don’t see it as a dramatic policy change, I can see it is as a fundamental change that is important and that needed to happen,” Reitman said.
“There is a harder standard, and abusive and dangerous drinking patterns are not going to be ignored in any way,” he added. “We cannot have a year like last year when there were close to 100 people taken to the hospital for consuming too much alcohol.”
Reitman cited specific alcohol-related incidents for prompting the policy change, including drunken behavior at last year’s Winter Bash and the banning of Tufts students from the Museum of Science and certain senior pub night venues for being too drunk. He also cited last year’s Spring Fling, which was declared a mass casualty incident after the number of students who needed emergency aid exceeded available resources and over 10 Tufts students were hospitalized for alcohol-related illnesses.
The change in alcohol policy was also made in order to provide further clarification for students. Reitman said that certain aspects of last year’s alcohol policy were inconsistent with administrative actions, particularly when students placed on pro-one were told that if they did not contact their parents the university would do so.
“If you look at the different levels of probation, you see that parents are only involved in a situation if it’s pro-two,” he said. “This wasn’t consistent.”
Director of Health Education Ian Wong said that he suspects that the change in policy may reduce students’ alcohol consumption.
“It might have an impact on campus,” Wong said. “Just like any policy, rules always help prevent people from doing things. The alcohol policy is doing that by telling students “this is what you need to do.”‘
But Wong added that while the policy may help curb drinking on campus, he believes that it is still limited in what it can accomplish.
“The bigger piece here is not the policy, but how we as a community can look out for each other,” he said. “We need to look at the certain students who are using alcohol at a dangerous level, and figure out how … we help other students intervene with those individuals. How do we get more students to watch out for each other?”
Reitman agreed with Wong, calling for a change in social norms on campus.
“I don’t think that the fundamental change that is needed is in the rules,” he said. “I think that the fundamental change is a cultural one, one that suggests to students that there are more ways to have fun then getting wasted.”
While students agreed that drinking plays a large role in college culture, some said that the new policy may deter them from calling Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS).
“I think the alcohol policy might encourage people to be less responsible than last year and might cause harm,” sophomore Ryan Long said. “People don’t want to get their friends in trouble, and if you automatically go on pro-one when you get caught, people might not call TEMS.”
Sophomore Edward Wronsky agreed. “If you make it a bigger penalty for drinking, people will be more opposed to calling TEMS when they really need to.”
In order to better monitor students who violate the alcohol policy, administrators have redirected all alcohol cases to the Office of Student Affairs. This is a change from last year, when administrators in the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) were also charged with disciplining students who violated the alcohol policy.
“It was a matter of pragmatism to have all violations go to one office in order to make sure that communications are clear,” Reitman said.
In response to last year’s growing trend of alcohol abuse on campus, a student and administrator-run Alcohol and Drug Taskforce was created in the summer to further address these issues. The taskforce will spend the year discussing how to best address Tufts’ alcohol-related problems and relay their recommendations to a separate steering committee.
Katherine Sawyer contributed reporting to this article.