Backpacks full of booze: Should Augustana continue its dry campus policy?

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The dry campus policy exists to limit underage students’ access to alcohol, help ensure a safe and productive learning environment and protect the university from liability.  Unfortunately, it fails to achieve the most important of these objectives.

College students who want to drink are going to drink whether or not the university permits it.  

Nothing more conclusively demonstrates this than the catastrophic failure of the “A Matter of Degree” program, in which 10 American universities received a combined $17.5 million to convert into “ultra-dry” campuses. 

These schools which participated in the program enacted sweeping changes to make alcohol as inaccessible as possible, such as establishing a text-messaging system to notify parents if their child was caught drinking.  

The result?  As published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, there was no measurable change in alcohol use after five years, proving that a dry campus will not solve the problem of underage drinking.

The wastefulness of enforcing an ineffective policy is grounds for repeal alone, but additional evidence indicates a dry campus may be more than just ineffective: the way it shifts drinking habits may be dangerous.

Students that abide by the dry campus rules are at greater risk of drunk driving, as they are more likely to drink off-campus and drive back while under the influence.  

No major studies on this currently exist, but parallels can be drawn between prohibition policies and drunk driving incidents across the country.  

For example, reports that a study of Arkansas counties and a study of more than 39,000 alcohol-related traffic incidents in Kentucky both demonstrate a clear link between dry counties and an increased rate of DUI charges and fatalities.

Additionally, the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that over 80 percent of college students drink, making true nondrinkers a relatively small minority.

Finally, students who drink on campus despite the dry campus policy are reluctant to contact authorities in the event that they find themselves inebriated and in danger—either from the alcohol itself or a situation they no longer have the capacity to handle.

From an ideological standpoint, it is logical that irresponsible students should be held responsible for their actions, but Augustana should not enforce an ideology that costs students their lives and does nothing to curtail dangerous behavior.

A similar problem is experienced by victims of sexual assault or other crimes who feel they cannot come forward if they are in violation with the dry campus policy during the attack.

The one thing the dry campus policy does achieve is insulating Augustana from liability in alcohol related issues. But, Augustana should not be holding students with potential drinking problems at arm’s length.

It should embrace the opportunity to provide students with a safe place within which to resolve potential substance issues and develop healthy drinking habits the same way it provides them a place to develop other healthy life skills.

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