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Conflicted on alcohol

Alcohol awareness may no longer dominate campus discussion the way it did in past years, but the way the University addresses--or doesn't address--alcohol is intertwined with nearly every student issue. Student safety, quad programming and reforming residential life are all touched by the administration's regulation of the sale and distribution of alcohol, oversight of events where alcohol is present and punishment of those found in violation of the rules.

Bombarded on both sides by pressures from students and from laws regulating alcohol use, Duke has been forced to walk a line between allowing a dangerous drinking scene and stifling student social life. Clearly, administrators need to stay within their legal and moral obligations to protect student safety. As long as the drinking age remains 21--an age that discourages a healthy, open social atmosphereâ??the University must provide some basic safeguards.

The year-old party monitor program offers this kind of system, or at least represents a start. Although no one should be deluded into believing that party monitors will solve concerns about safety and alcohol overcomsumption, students at least know that there are a few people at every party who have had at least basic training in safety. Building more cohesive community, which the University has tried to do through housing arrangements and quad programming, also helps build a healthy social atmosphere

But unfortunately, the University does not always aim for a more cohesive coommunity, either because it legally cannot or because it underestimates the negative effects of its policies. By limiting space for on-campus events, banning kegs from tailgating and turning residential advisers into "documenting" agentsâ??as opposed to people who look out for safety, or who truly adviseâ??the University does not prevent alcohol-based social life. It only pushes students and beer off campus or behind closed doors, where it is hidden from those who could monitor safety. For all the University's rhetoric about creating a safe, welcoming on-campus atmosphere, administrators end up driving students toward unsafe drinking habits.

Only three short years have passed since then-junior Raheem Bath tragically died of aspiration pneumonia after overdrinking, passing out and inhaling his own vomit. Fortunately, three-quarters of undergraduates have not suffered through the pain that such an event inflicts on a campus; unfortunately, they also know less about the lethal dangers of alcohol. Party monitors add a level of security to the campus social scene, but they would not have necessarily prevented Bath's death and irresponsible drinkers still end up in the emergency room on a regular basis.

Just as they did in 1998, Duke's social norms and official policies permit dangerous, irresponsible behavior. Student self-monitoring is a good start to changing that culture, and students need to be vigilant to keep their drinking from spilling over into tragedy.


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