Safety from withinIn yesterday's editorial, we outlined the fragmentation of social life at Duke—a consequence, we argue, largely of administrative initiatives designed to improve the safety and vitality of social culture on campus. From eliminating Tailgate, moving much of Greek life to Central Campus and requiring PACT training for all new Greek members, policy changes initiated or pushed by the University have made it clear that the administration prioritizes safety over most other concerns.
This University's emphasis on safety is appropriate and reasonable. In light of evidence of high rates of sexual assault on campus and the dangerous behavior fostered by alcohol-fueled events like Tailgate, the University has rightly made it a priority to discourage binge drinking and increate opportunities for alcohol-free social interaction. The University's intolerance for potentially dangerous on-campus events had led, many believe, to crackdowns and greater adherence by the administration to the letter of Duke's alcohol policies. Although many bemoan stricter enforcement of the University's alcohol policies, it is important to remember that these changes reflect a good-faith attempt to promote safety—even if, as we have suggested in previous editorials, they do not always succeed in doing so.
Indeed, as social events move off campus, they not only become less visible, but they also create a whole new set of safety and liability concerns. Hosting parties at off-campus venues can encourage groups to maintain tightly controlled guests lists and assume greater responsibility for what happens under their watch. But these venues' distance from campus and unfamiliarity can increase the risk of drunk driving, sexual assault as well as other unsafe or criminal activities. In general, the exodus off campus makes it difficult for Duke police and party monitors to supervise events, placing the burden of responsibility onto the groups hosting off-campus events.
The safety concerns that Duke has attempted to address through policy measures and collaborative action with campus social groups—binge drinking and sexual assault, in particular—will persist, unless we see major changes in the cultural attitudes held by students. Many of us remember the tragic, alcohol-related deaths of former students Drew Everson and Matthew Grape, events that prompted considerable reflection and, in many ways, changed cultural norms on campus. But students of that generation will soon graduate, and, when they do, the University will face considerable challenges as it attempts to imbue another generation of students with the same serious attitudes towards alcohol.
In the end, legislating safety is not enough. Policy changes, though they make the University's priorities clear, can only cause real change if they are accompanied by shifts in what students consider to be normal or acceptable behavior. If we want the campus to become a truly safe and healthy place, students will have to internalize the importance of working to prevent things like sexual assault and alcohol overconsumption. Many students have, but the persistence of dangerous behavior suggests that more can be done.