Yet while the consequences of student drinking are widespread, the issues vary by the college, Wechsler says, depending on the extent of fraternities and sororities, the relative importance of athletic programs, and other factors.
At URI, President Carothers targeted the fraternity system, since it was perceived as having a deeply integrated ethos of heavy drinking. Brown, on the other hand, fosters a culture that includes many activities and social pursuits beyond fraternities and sports events. Student partying exists, for sure, but it is not the sole center of campus life. Brown students tend to agree that the university’s drug and alcohol policies are relaxed compared with other universities. But at Brown, the partying is low-key and usually contained to the areas near the campus. Students mostly benefit from what seems to be an unwritten understanding with the university: keep the partying under control, and avoid heavy-handed policies.
The end result of the different approaches is that URI students are much more likely than their peers at Brown to face arrest and prosecution for drug or alcohol use, based on data reported by the universities. Between 2002 and 2004, four Brown students were arrested for drug violations, and none for alcohol violations, although more than 500 drug- and alcohol-related disciplinary actions were processed through the school’s internal judicial process. For the same years at URI (which has roughly 11,300 undergraduate students, compared to the 5700 at Brown), there were 50 arrests for drug violations and 29 for alcohol violations, and about 1600 internal disciplinary actions.
Now, though, after The O’Reilly Factor focused unwelcome attention on the annual Sex Power God party — replete with breathless accounts of same-sex kissing among students — Brown continues a previously launched examination of its alcohol policies. (Although 30 students were treated for over-consumption of alcohol after Sex Power God, and boozing might have been a factor in a campus fight that night, alcohol was not served at the event hosted by the campus Queer Alliance. Students attribute the situation to heavy “pre-gaming,” or binge drinking, before the party.)
The irony would be if Brown, chastened by O’Reilly’s hypocritical moralizing, is tempted to lean closer to URI’s harsher standard on drug and alcohol use by students.
A tale of two schools
In response to the Sex Power God tempest, Brown officials quickly sought to allay concern. In a letter to parents, David A. Greene, the university’s vice president for campus life and student services, detailed how Brown would proceed, pledging a reexamination of the policies regarding student-run social events. “We are a community that values flexibility and choice,” Greene wrote, “but when it comes to issues of safety we have no option but to insist that the highest standards are upheld.”
Such rhetoric aside, Brown mostly conducts student discipline in-house, and with considerable discretion (in both senses of the word).
While URI alerts parents after a student’s second alcohol infraction, Brown’s policy is not to notify parents out of respect for student privacy rights, unless, Greene says, there is a concern for the student’s safety, or multiple violations. “We want to be sure we don’t create disincentives for students to seek help,” he says. The university also offers amnesty to students who contact emergency medical services on behalf of students who get sick from drinking.