Staff Editorial: Ending dry campus policy is the right move

AU has been a “dry campus” since the 1980's. Students who are 21 or older cannot drink or possess alcohol in the residence halls or buy these products on campus. The University serves alcoholic beverages at certain special events, but that is the only limited exception.

AU’s alcohol policy could soon change, however, if a new University proposal is approved. A program that may be piloted in the fall 2016 semester would allow alcohol in select on-campus residence halls. Students of legal drinking age in McDowell, Cassell, Roper and Nebraska Halls, as well as designated floors of Hughes and Leonard could be enjoying wine with dinner as early as next fall.

The Editorial Board supports this proposal. Students who are 21 or older should be able to do something that is perfectly legal off-campus. They should not face conduct code violations for simply engaging in such behavior. AU’s pilot policy moves closer to treating students like mature adults, as we urged AU to do in an editorial just last month.

AU administrators cited two motivating factors in this proposal: keeping more students in on-campus housing after freshman year and reducing dangerous drinking that takes place in the surrounding community and private homes. While we support the new policy, we are skeptical that ending the dry campus policy will accomplish these goals.

Alcohol is perhaps just one factor in the decision many AU students make to live off-campus. Units at nearby apartment complexes, such as the Berkshire Apartments on Massachusetts Avenue, often cost less than staying on-campus if rent is split among several people. Many students also, unsurprisingly, prefer to share a bathroom and living room with three or four people they know rather than 30 strangers.

By lowering a barrier to on-campus drinking, students will be moderately less likely to venture into potentially dangerous off-campus situations to consume alcohol. This is clearly a positive development to the degree that it happens.

But much of dangerous behavior in question occurs at, or on the way to and from, fraternity parties, often some distance from campus,even going as far as the Maryland suburbs. Alcohol-related issues emerge when students enter a car with a drunk driver, slip on ice in an intoxicated walk back from a fraternity house, or God forbid, face sexual assault.

AU kicked Greek organizations off campus at the same time as it imposed the dry campus policy. To some extent, risky drinking farther from campus resulted from that choice. We need to have a larger conversation about the status of Greek organizations at AU to truly tackle the issue of dangerous alcohol consumption among students.

Of course, alcohol remains illegal to use or possess for students under 21, a large contingent at AU. The potential policy change would not have an effect on these students.

In fairness, these quibbles with the new policy are somewhat tangential to the central question at hand. We are happy AU is considering changing its alcohol policy, and we urge President Kerwin and his cabinet to approve the Housing and Dining Programs proposal.


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