Stanford’s new alcohol policy encourages harmful norms

Sarah Simon, Views Editor

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

This June, Stanford University student Brock Turner was indicted on five charges relating to his sexual assault of an anonymous female. Brock Turner insisted that the real issue at hand was a culture of binge drinking and partying prevalent at Stanford, where Turner and his victim met at a party. Though Stanford did respond appropriately by expelling Turner, it has recently begun introducing measures to reduce drinking culture on campus. Introducing alcohol harm reduction policy so close after the Turner case seems to validate the attribution of his actions to alcohol consumption. This perpetuates a cultural norm of excusing sexual violence on the basis of alcohol use.

Stanford’s new alcohol policy serves to reduce “high risk” substance use. The strategies introduced include banning beverages above 40 proof (20 percent alcohol) and limiting container sizes to 750 milliliters, the standard size of a bottle of wine. As most retailers sell alcoholic beverages in larger containers and smaller sizes may be more expensive, the policy will discourage students from buying large amounts at a time. Undergraduate parties may only serve beer and wine. Mixed drinks are prohibited. Graduate parties may serve mixed drinks, but the groups hosting the parties must must register their guests. Punishment for violation of this policy may include removal from student housing.

Rumors of the policy first emerged last March, with a referendum in April during which 91 percent of students voted against it. Despite the proposal’s introduction before Turner’s statement which blamed party culture and alcohol, the timing of the change sends a message that students cannot ignored. Campus alcohol culture could be an issue, and the new policy may be successful. Intention does not excuse impact and the impact of this policy’s timing could be far-reaching. 

Turner used alcohol as an excuse to try to absolve himself of blame, and this policy change seems to validate his rhetoric. In 2012, Campus Safety Magazine reported that 69 percent of campus rape cases involved an intoxicated perpetrator and 43 percent of cases involved an intoxicated victim. Clearly, alcohol is a well-researched part of rape culture. It is important to understand, however, that this is a bias our society holds. We associate alcohol with rape. This opens a space for perpetrators like Turner to avoid taking responsibility. He received the minimum prison sentence, a mere six months despite his five indictments.

In order to properly hold perpetrators accountable for sexual assault, we must be aware of how our society looks at rape. Victim blaming, through questioning what victims were wearing or whether they had been drinking, is not acceptable. Stanford may have made a valiant effort to impact drinking culture, but the timing of Turner’s indictment and Stanford’s change in alcohol policy appears insensitive.

Niche named Tulane the top party school in America for 2016. While Tulane’s drinking culture is universally understood, sexual assaults on campus are not a large part of group consciousness or conversations. In the 2014-15 academic year, there were 23 reported incidents of sexual assault, yet Tulane does not have a clear stance on treatment of victims and perpetrators. Plus, with one in four college women experiencing sexual assault during their time on campus, these numbers are unbelievably low. One possible reason is that victims do not feel safe coming forward to report incidents. 

In order to create an environment where victims of sexual violence and assault can feel safe reporting incidents, the associations between alcohol and sexual assault need to shift. Alcohol is not the perpetrator. People who commit sexual crimes are single-handedly responsible for their own actions. This is non-negotiable. Both policy and practice on college campuses need to reflect these values.

Sarah is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected].

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