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Binge Drinking

I would like to reserve the thread on health center fact finding for specific questions and, I hope, answers about the laws and other issues that did and should affect the College’s decisions on keeping the health center open 24 hours a day. But, there was some interesting discusion on binge drinking at Williams in that thread that should be discussed somewhere. Why not here? HWC wrote:

I think Williams “binge drinking” rate is right around 45%, meaning five drinks in one sitting in the two weeks previous to the survey. Getting buzzed (but, stopping short of puking or a comatose ambulance ride) once a week on Saturday night is not the problem, IMO. However, according to national trends about half of those binge drinkers do so more than once a week. It’s this 20% of the campus, boozin’ two, three nights a week that creates a sense of an alcohol haze to those around them. I’m pretty sure that the lunkheads smearing feces on the walls come from this group. This is the group of admittees you really want to target. I’m pretty sure that today’s Ephs can look around and see who they are.

Small differences really change the campus culture. For example, the difference between a surveyed 30% binge drinking rate and a 45% rate is HUGE in terms of how the campus feels. There’s still plenty of booze, plenty of parties, but non-drinkers and occasional drinkers don’t feel like they are marginalized. It doesn’t seem like the whole campus is getting plastered.

My question: Is the data about the relative amounts of drinking at Williams and elsewhere publicly available? In a different thread, HWC mentioned data from COFHE and a Harvard study. What does this data tell us?

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#1 Comment By hwc On April 19, 2005 @ 2:55 pm

Just to add a little about the available research.

The COFHE group is a group of 31 very selective colleges and universities that was founded originally to cooperate on financial aid issues, but has expanded to cover a wide range of shared interests. The full list can be be found at David’s COFHE link above.

One part of COFHE membership is conducting large scale campus surveys every few years that cover everything from student satisfaction to drinking. The member schools receive full reports, but are only allowed to release specific data for their own institution. I found Swarthmore’s drinking percentages (none in the last year, none in the last 30 days, number of times per year, all broken down by class) in a student newspaper article. Williams has this data, but I’ve not found any of it.

The other source is a series of major surveys done by Weschler et al at the Harvard School of Public Health. At intervals of several years starting in 1993, they surveyed large random samples at 130 or so colleges and universities on drinking related issues. These surveys are the source of the phrase “binge drinking rate”. You can find links to their four reports at the Havard College Alcohol Study site. I would urge anyone interested to read a couple of these. Weschler’s work is pretty much the bible on college drinking data.

The Weschler data is available to researchers in the field and to the participating schools (I know that Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore were among them). Again, the schools have their data and can make it available if they choose, but cannot release data from other schools.

I do not know the precise binge drinking rates at Swarthmore, Williams, and Amherst. I’m not saying that Swarthmore is precisely 30%, but it has been characterized as being “in that range”. Likewise, Williams and Amherst have been characterized as being “in the range” of the national average, which is 44%. And, that’s all I’m going to say about a source. Take it for what it’s worth. I don’t expect anyone to believe numbers without an identified source, but I can’t do anything about that.

I am told that colleges are required to provide data on drinking at their colleges when asked by an interested party. So, if someone felt like pushing the issue, they could probably get the data. Likewise, I am quite sure Williams does know the exact number of alcohol poisoning ambulance transports, notwithstanding the fact that everyone played Mickey the Dunce on that question last year.

I am a little surprised that with the CUL report, the Record features, and overall attention, none of the COFHE or Weschler statistics ever came out last year — especially because the consultants emphasized the importance of data to show students that they over-estimate how much their peers are drinking. This was actually the main point of the newpaper article, Survey: Swatties overestimate peers’ yearly use of alcohol where I found the Swat COFHE data.

I wish colleges would report their surveyed drinking rates to USNEWS. As a consumer, I think it’s an important part of understand the campus culture when shopping for an expensive product. They are required to report drinking law arrests and disciplinary actions to the IPEDS federal crime reporting organization here. You search for the college, the select the CAMPUS SECURITY link, then go to ARRESTS for data on alcohol, drug, and weapons violation or CRIMINAL OFFENSES for theft, rape, etc.

#2 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On April 19, 2005 @ 5:51 pm

hwc, are you a Williams alumn? I was shocked to read your latest posts about drinking at Williams. Shocked because you’re entirely serious–it took me several posts of yours to figure out you weren’t kidding.

Yes, people drink at Williams. Yes, people drink underage at Williams. Yes, people drink irresponsibly at Williams. No, I don’t believe drinking to be a bigger problem at Williams than at any of its peer schools. You’ve been flinging around stats, specifically comparing Williams to Swarthmore. Yet, in your above post you admit that you, in fact, don’t have any of the statistics for Williams. Even if you did, even if your previously invented numbers were 100% correct, your reaction is in very many ways an overreaction. You’ve made numerous assumptions about drinking at Williams (that 20-25% of the student body are “neanderthal drinkers,” that drinkers are consistently disrespectful of non drinkers–“lunkheads smearing feces on walls,” that non-drinkers feel marginalized, etc), all of which indicate a clear prejudice on your behalf.

I don’t hope to change your mind about drinking on campus. Any amount of unsafe drinking is unacceptible (I just don’t think there’s more of it at Williams than its peer schools). I’m mostly just curious where your bias is coming from. If I had to guess, I’d say that you’re a middle-aged alumn with a child who had a bad visit to Williams and ended up at Swarthmore.

Incidentally, Williams just surveyed the student body about alcohol on-campus. The timing of the survey put First Fridays within the 2-week time period asked for. Since a large number of people on campus drink once a month at First Fridays, the timing of the survey will obviously yield somewhat of a misleadingly high number. Additionally, I’ve never liked the 5 drink question–alcohol’s effects vary widely based on the individual. At the very least, any survey attempting to measure binge drinking should also ask for body weight and pair the two numbers up.

#3 Comment By CookieDough On April 19, 2005 @ 6:19 pm

Hwc is “Interestedad” from college confidential

#4 Comment By David On April 19, 2005 @ 6:56 pm


It is generally considered rude to point out connections between on-line persona unless you have a good reason to; sort of like mentioning that I am losing my hair. True, but not relevant.

Moreover, there is a non-trivial overlap between the world of College Confidential and that of EphBlog. Seems to me that both sites are the better for it.

#5 Comment By hwc On April 19, 2005 @ 7:21 pm

Yes. I am a Williams alum. Very satisfied alum, actually, enough so to contribute a meager pittance from time to time. I thought the total educational experience at Williams was absolutely first rate.

No, my child did not have a bad visit to Williams. Actually, she had one wonderful warm weather visit to Williamstown with a carload of friends and another long weekend for a mid-winter alum function that was a bit Siberian, but enjoyable. She submitted an application to Williams, but withdraw it under the rules of a binding ED acceptance. Her best friend is a Williams freshman this year. Likes Williams very much academically, but has commented on the “crazy” drinking in her entry and seems to feel a bit isolated socially.

I guess I was a bit too obtuse in trying to provide data without violating a source. I said that I only have the data “in the range of” because the source would be violating agreements to provide an exact number. Whether the precise binge drinking rate is 43% or 47% isn’t that important. The fact that Williams is at or near the national average of 44% is close enough for government work. I view the source as extremely authoritative, but it’s OK if you believe those numbers are incorrect.

Since you just surveyed the campus, give us the new numbers. Or, better yet, if my numbers are wrong, get the Williams numbers from the most recent Weschler Harvard Public Health Survey at Williams. As a campus leader, you are in a terrific position to get them.

Also, the number of alcohol transports per year to N. Adams would be an interesting comparison. Carleton averages 6-10 hospital transports per year, a dozen through March last year (frightening), with a binge drinking rate as high as 45% in the Weschler surveys according to their website. So, lets see what “about average” is. The lower end of the scale for elite LACs is a binge drinking rate of 30%. There are elite LACs that average about 1 alcohol transport a year — some years none, some years two, etc.

I would love to hear that Williams is in Weschler’s low binge drinking category and that all the brouhaha with the Alcohol Task Force and Record features and the closing of the health center was all a big misunderstanding.

I think anyone who is not seriously concerned about the degree of dangerous alcohol abuse on campuses these days is in big denial. I also don’t buy the argument that “being about average” is acceptable. I did not attend Williams to get an “about average” educational experience, nor would I pay $40,000 a year for an “about average” educational experience. You can get “about average” at UMass for a fraction of the cost.

The “smearing feces” was from the Williams Record. If you recall, it was a complaint from Buildings and Grounds to the Alcohol Task Force about having to clean up messes like that — in the gym, in that case. That was Neanderthal behavior when I was at Williams and it is Neanderthal behavior today at Williams, or even at an “about average” college. That kind of behavior is indicative of alcohol abuse, plain and simple. I don’t think that kind of behavior is the norm at Williams at all. I’m sure it is a very small percentage of students.

The 20%-25% figure comes from Weschler’s research that shows about half of the binge drinkers on any campus binge drink more than one per week. I have not seen that breakdown for Williams but, I am assuming that Williams is “about average” in the split of their binge drinkers. That’s the group that creates a sense of an alcohol dominated social scene, is most disruptive, and most at risk. At a campus with a lower overall binge drinking rate, that group of hardcore frequent binge drinkers would be a correspondingly smaller percentage of the campus.

#6 Comment By Jeff Zeeman On April 19, 2005 @ 8:43 pm

I think drinking at Williams will always be somewhat of a problem, but let’s not blow it our of proportion. It is a college, and a fairly isolated college at that, and pretty much every school that fits that criteria (Middlebury, Dartmouth, Bowdoin, etc.) seems to have a fair amount of drinking on campus. I, for one, think it’s O.K. for 20 year old kids to get a little smashed a few times a semester, it’s part of growing up and basically par for the course in our society. Certainly, drinking at Williams is nowhere near the levels at, say, a typical big state school. And I think (based on pure anecdotal evidence) that Williams is pretty much in the middle of its peer group in terms of campus drinking (better than Dartmouth, Midd, Colby, equal to Amherst and Bowdoin and Princton, more drinking than Swarthmore, Haverford, Harvard, Yale) and definitely better than the norm in terms of drug use on campus.

But, I think drinking is problematic for three reasons: (1) people drink to the point where they pose a danger to themselves; (2) heavy drinking’s correlation with problematic sexual / violent behavior; and (3) people who don’t want to drink feeling peer pressure to do so. I think none of these three are significant problems at Williams, but likewise, none of the three are at the negligible / non-existent level they SHOULD be at.

How to combat problem drinking and the bigger problems associated with it?

(1) Drinking regulations. This is the biggest problem, and the most difficult (perhaps impossible) to solve in light of the law. I think pretty much everyone agrees that underaged kids standing in line at big keg parties or swigging beers in suites is not a big deal at all. What is a big deal is people, because they are prevented from drinking, pre-gaming on hard A to get skunked before they go out. The drinking age may make solving this one very difficult, but if anyone can creatively walk the fine line of legality and try to return an open drinking environment for underage drinkers, I think it would make a huge difference. Basically, the more out in the open drinking is, and the more focused on beer, the healthier.

(2) Alternatives to drinking. Just as (1) represents a decline since my days at Williams, I think (2), from all I have heard, is a major improvement. The more really cool speakers / WCDU debates, the more weekend-long events like winter carnival, the Williamstown Jazz Festival, and the Williamstown Theater festival, the more interesting social hangouts like Goodrich, the Log, and the coming student center, the more cool movies and concerts on campus, the more attractive nearby off-campus events at MassMoca, the more campus traditions like end of semester trivia or attending Williams-Amherst sporting events, the better. That will help combat the isolation factor leading to problem drinking, and also weaken the peer pressure factor, as there should always be attractive alternatives to drinking-focused activities on any given weekend. And I don’t mean alcohol free parties — in my view, parties are simply just not that fun without alcohol. I am talking about more creative, perhaps more labor / resource intensive, alternative events.

In terms of problems associated with drinking, I think focusing on these early on in orientation and making sure that J.A.’s pound home the importance of responsible behavior — aka, education — is the best hope.

Question for Noah or other students: is there still a Currier Club (jazz music and wine a few times a semester)? This was just about the coolest event on campus in my view, and very popular. How about an equivalent of P.M. coffee house, a mellow student run coffee house with acid jazz and that kind of scene? Also a great alcohol alternative. Alternatives like this, introducing responsible drinking, are the best way to combat more problematic drinking on campus.

#7 Comment By David R On April 19, 2005 @ 9:56 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with what Jeff said. I don’t think that 20 year olds pose a problem to themselves when they have more than 4 drinks a couple nights a month. As for 18 year olds, well, that’s another matter entirely.

The problem isn’t Williams. The problem is that when you get a bunch of kids together who have had no experience with alcohol in their lives, you’re going to have them overindulge when they finally get their hands on it. No, this is obviously not true for all, but I have definitely witnessed this firsthand in many different people.

A huge part of the problem is the 21 rule itself. Because it is illegal for an 18 year old to drink, he/she will not be going out to a public venue to drink socially among large groups of people because of the risk of getting into trouble in doing so. Instead, he/she will “pregame” with a handful of friends in a cramped single doing shot after shot of 100 proof liquor before he/she goes out.

As someone who just came back from Spain in the fall, a country where the drinking age is 18, I noticed significantly less problematic drinking among Spanish college students than my own American peers in my program. I won’t make this an argument for lowering the drinking age; each culture is very distinct from one another and what holds for Spanish culture may not hold in American culture. I’m just pointing out the difficulties in regulating dangerous drinking.

If it were not for the WPD and theoretical legal liabilities, there would be no reason to keep a 19 year old from having a drink at an ACE party. In fact, it would be ideal if it were made easy enough for them to do all of their drinking at a larger venue. This allows friends and party workers to ensure the safety of these students with little experience with alcohol.

I have full faith that Williams College Security would agree with me. In fact, I had this conversation with a top ranking officer, and he did in fact agree. So what does this mean? It means nothing. Laws in place and enforcement of those laws by local police authorities make such scenarios impossible. So, as far as Williams goes, it is no better and no worse than anyone else. Don’t blow the alcohol “problem” out of proportion.

Yes, there are those who drink to extreme excess and damage property, but they are a very small minority. Also, I don’t believe that the number of students who go to the hospital is entirely relevant. We once had a health center open 24 hours that you could send your friends to. The vast majority of the time you sent a friend to the health center, nothing at all happened. There were very few health center visits that resulted in trips to the hospital. Thus, in the absence of a health center, we will send an excessive amount of students to the hospital.

The school that sends more students to the hospital cares more about its own student body. Obviously you want to minimize the number of instances where you would even consider sending a student to the hospital, but comparing the numbers is next to useless.

#8 Comment By David R On April 19, 2005 @ 10:00 pm

P.S. I haven’t heard anything of the “Currier Club”, but that’s an awesome idea. ACE had a couple of nights last year where they brought in jazz bands (or used our very own Williams College Jazz Ensemble) and served wine and cocktails all night. I loved the idea then, and I love the idea now. Sadly, there have been no such events since I have been back from Spain. I don’t know if there were any in the fall.

#9 Comment By hwc On April 19, 2005 @ 10:23 pm

Certainly, drinking at Williams is nowhere near the levels at, say, a typical big state school.

I think that depends on the large state school. Florida State just published their data from the last two Harvard surveys on their campus. The binge drinking there is 55%, which is clearly higher than Williams. Of course, FSU is not exactly known as hotbed of academic intensity.

On the other hand, a large state university that has admissions selectivity in the “above average” category, Georgia Tech, also published the Harvard study results from their campus recently. Their binge drinking rate had declined significantly, down to 34%.

There are real differences in the drinking culture at various schools. The problem is widespread, but the degree varies quite a bit.

I disagree that ambulance rides to the hospital are not a good indicator of the severity of a serious alcohol abuse. At schools with overnight health care centers, the decision to send someone to the hospital usually occurs at the point where they cannot stagger down the hall under their own power or cannot be easily awoken. So that decision occurs at a very high blood alcohol level. If this a routine occurence, then there is a serious drinking problem on campus, even if it is among a small percentage of students. Those kind of blood alcohol levels almost always require some kind of forced ingestion or chugging of alcohol — shots or whatever. That’s not normal drinking behavior.

#10 Comment By Jeff Zeeman On April 20, 2005 @ 7:03 am

re: state schools, I obviously can’t say anything definitive since I have no hard date. But based on experiences of friends at Rutgers, UMass, and Penn State, which I would imagine are pretty typcial, the big difference from Williams is that, at Williams, hardly anyone was drinking Sunday through Wednesday night, most people would go out Saturday and perhaps either Thursday or Friday as well. At the bigger schools I have visited or heard about, there seemed to be more people who were plastered on the weekends, and a LOT more who were drinking consistently 4-5 nights a week. Of course, the student bodies are so much bigger that it might have seemed deceptive, but talking to my friends, they just thought it was laughable based on their visits to Williams during their frosh year that Williams students considered the school to have a lot of campus drinking going on.

David and other current students, I DEFINITELY think you guys should try to reinstate Currier Club, although it sounds like ACE has something similar in place. Here is how it worked. Maybe twice per semester and once during winter study, in Currier Ballroom, risers, tables and chairs would be set up, with black table cloths, etc., and either an on or off campus jazz quartet would play. The venue always looked awesome, felt like a real jazz club. Folks could bring a bottle of wine, but were limited to one bottle per two people (this was one of the few events at Williams that actually encouraged people to go on actual dates). Cheese and fruit would be set up, and cost might be ten bucks a head. These almost always sold out and were really popular events, especially once it got into folks’ head as a semi-regular occurrence to look forward too. The only difference now I imagine is that they might have to check folks’ ID at the door, although since it’s a BYO, maybe even not. But even if only over 21 folks could drink and folks under 21 couldn’t bring booze in, sand the wine, it is still a very cool, fun, and differenct scene. One of my fonder social memories at Williams. For a very different but still cool vibe, a similar set-up could be accomplished in either the Science atrium or Goodrich on a weekend night, with perhaps accoustic music, etc., in place of jazz.

Again, Wiliams still has tons of motivated creative students, and now there seem to be hoards of “professional” social coordinators running around as well. I rarely hear about what, if anything, all of these various campus life coordinators do, but if they aren’t able to devise a reasonably steady diet of social activities that are attractive to students and don’t necessitate getting hammered, what is the point of even having them? To me, you are never going to stop college kids from drinking at problem levels, but the single best way to combat it (and greatly enhance social life at Williams in the process) is to have as many interesting, creative social options as is feasible in terms of planning resources (which are now abundant at Williams) and financial resources (never a huge problem). In fact, if the current system of social coordinators — and this is a topic I’d love to hear student input on b/c it is a relatively new innovation — has been unsuccessful in diversifying campus social options, I’d rather see the couple of hundred grand spent on their salaries and benefits back in student hands to promote more and more attractive concerts and performances.

I mean, why spend hundreds of millions on campus life facilities — theater, student center, Goodrich — and then fail to provide the much more modest sums required to keep those facilities full of activities. A 2 million dollar student life endowment — hardly a huge percentage of a 400 million dollar campaign — could fund, in self-sustaining fashion, a slew of mid-sized national musicians and comedians and Currier club type activities each year.

#11 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On April 20, 2005 @ 10:41 am

ACE gets somewhere around $250,000 a year to spend on activities such as the Currier club. The problem is certainly not the amount of funding given to social life, but rather how that funding is spent. ACE this year has spent over $50,000 of their funding bringing Wyclef Jean to campus. Personally, I would prefer bi-weekly jazz lounges (the modern version of the Currier Club) to twice weekly keggers, or even to one big name artist concert…but that’s just not the way things have been working out.

On the subject of drinking at Williams, any current student who has visited friends at almost any other school in the country knows that this is a laughable debate. There is absolutely no comparison to be made between drinking at Williams and drinking at any school other than its small circle of peers. As previously said, one of the biggest differences is that at most larger schools drinking regularly takes place 4+ days of the week, while at Williams it is a once or twice a week occurance. Drinking culture at Williams is such that I wouldn’t be surprised if 30-40% of students had 5 drinks once every two weeks. Drinking culture at, say, University of Maryland (which isn’t really even known as a party school), is such that those 30-40% of “binge drinkers” or having 5 drinks multiple times in one week. I would be much more interested in a study showing how frequently each week students drank to unsafe levels. I disagree that health center of hospital numbers represent this. Possibly a survey asking a question such as “on average, how many times each week do you have 8 or more drinks” would give you the results that you’re really interested in. The “have you had 5 or more drinks over the previous two week period” question seems designed to yield unfairly high results.

#12 Comment By hwc On April 20, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

The beauty of looking at the actual Harvard “College Alcohol Study” results is that the data eliminates speculation from the equation. For example, you’ve made a number of guesses about drinking rates at Williams that could be easily addressed by simply getting the Harvard data for Williams.

For example, you say that you woudn’t be surprised if 30%-40% of Williams students binge drink once in two weeks. That would put Williams in the low range of binge drinking nationally, when the data shows that Williams is comfortably up in the moderate range, higher than your estimate. The 30% guess would be among the lowest rates for elite LACs. For example, Earlham, which is an officially “dry” campus reports a 30% binge drinking rate. Schools with 30% binge rates don’t have special Board of Trustees meetings expressing outrage to the administration over alcohol behavior on campus.

The actual questions asked on the Harvard survey are:

1) Think back over the LAST TWO WEEKS. How many times have you had FIVE OR MORE DRINKS in a row?

2) During the LAST TWO WEEKS, how many times have your had FOUR DRINKS in a row (but no more than that)?

The possible answers are multiple choice ranging from “none” to “10+ times”. In the published articles, “occasional binge drinkers” are those who reported having 5 drinks in a row (4 for women) once or twice in the prior two weeks. “Frequent binge drinkers” are those who answered three or more times in the prior two weeks. But, more detail is available to the colleges in the actually data.

In addition, the survey asked about the number of times the drinkers on campus (those who replied that they had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days) drink per month:

Students who had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days were asked to indicate how often they had a drink of alcohol in the past month. The response categories were 1 to 2 occasions, 3 to 5 occasions, 6 to 9 occasions, 10 to 19 occasions, 20 to 39 occasions, and 40 or more occasions.

The drinking style of students who responded that getting drunk was very important, important, or somewhat important to them (as opposed to not important) was labeled “drinking to get drunk.”

So, all of your questions could be answered by the Havard study data for Williams. In fact, it is virtually certain that the signs appearing around campus about the average Williams student drinking 0-4 drinks came directly from an analysis of the Havard study data by the alcohol consultants.

There are two reasons why the data is important. First, comparing the data to other colleges and schools can prevent the “head in the sand” syndrome. Conversely, it is important that students not overestimate the amount they are “expected” to drink according to the perceived social norms of the campus. That’s what the campus signs are all about — an effort to change the perceived social norms.

As to the 4 or 5 drink definition. I think that’s a pretty reasonable definition of “drinking to get drunk”. For example, splitting a bottle of wine, sharing a six-pack, or having three shots Jack Daniels would not fall under that heading, although it’s been my experience that any of those would certainly get a good social drinking buzz going and, depending on body weight, would put you near or above the legal limit for driving in most states.

Doing so 3 or more days out of 14 is not good (college or not), especially when 5 drinks is just the starting point for the definition. By looking at the Harvard data, you could see just what percentage of the Williams students fall into this frequent binge drinking category. Nationally, 23% of students are frequent binge drinkers and 23% reporting drinking 10 or more times in the prior 30 days. Of the college drinkers, 27% report at least one instance of not remembering where they were or what they did while drinking (a blackout).

#13 Comment By Aidan On April 20, 2005 @ 1:39 pm

I would like to note that defining “binge drinking” as 4 drinks in a sitting is part of the problem. When all drinking is binge drinking, how can real binge drinkers set themselves apart? To set the “binge drinking” bar so low stigmatizes everyone. Those interested should consult Modern Drunkard Magazine for more information. They’re a beacon of hope, standing athwart the wagon of sobriety and yelling “stop!”

#14 Comment By Megan Bruck ’07 On April 20, 2005 @ 6:55 pm

Hey Noah-
“There have been a lot of people on CC who say that they would like to see bigger concerts,” according to Eric Hsu in this week’s Record article on Wyclef. Glad you’re not among them! :)

#15 Comment By Diana On April 21, 2005 @ 12:22 am

Also, in case no one has mentioned it yet, the college is currently conducting a survey on alcohol. So maybe there will be more to talk about soon.

#16 Comment By Jim On April 21, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

Honestly, alcoholism is something that can only be dealt with on a case by case basis. A freind of mine from college could down an entire handle of grain alcohol in one sitting and not display typical drunkard behaviour because she grew up drinking the stuff. She rowed, graduated magna and still drinks like a fish and although her liver might be taking a beating she is not the kind of student that should have been weeded out with a survey of your drinking habits.
Williams is small enough to seriously tackle dangerous binge drinking by counselling the people the dirnk dangerously. Everyone else is ahving fun and exercising their privilege as a consenting adult.

#17 Comment By hwc On April 21, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

A freind of mine from college could down an entire handle of grain alcohol in one sitting….

Maybe Weschler needs to add a new category to his Harvard surveys:

How many times in the last two weeks have you downed an entire handle of grain alcohol in one sitting?

Then, we could debate whether that constitutes binge drinking!

Honestly, that’s what worries me about the drinking cultures at many schools. The fact that this kind of drinking could be viewed as even remotely normal or acceptable.

#18 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On April 21, 2005 @ 9:42 pm

hwc–Jim is right in that drinking unsafe amounts is only determinable on a person-by-person basis. Now, I agree with you that there probably aren’t any circumstances under which downing a handle are acceptible. However, 3 drinks for me may be equivalent to 9 drinks for you.

#19 Comment By hwc On April 21, 2005 @ 10:32 pm

I’m not sure I agree. The built-up tolerance for alcohol varies by individual, but the blood alcohol content is pretty much a cut n’ dried weight, amount, time issue. But, I’m not a physiologist.

Noah, I really respect your engagement on campus. So what’s your opinion? Forget comparisons to other schools and national averages and all that. Purely from the standpoint of Williams being all that you would like it to be, does Morty have a legitimate concern about the impact of alcohol on campus life?

#20 Comment By Aidan On April 21, 2005 @ 10:45 pm

God Bless Williams for having a robust and engaging drinking culture. Some of my fondest moments at college took place in bars. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

#21 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On April 22, 2005 @ 12:19 am


Taken entirely out of the context of other colleges, I think Morty’s and the Trustees’ concern is merited and admirable. I believe that any amount of unsafe drinking is unacceptible and I am happy that the administration has effectively taken that stance. The fact is that while the Williams alcohol culture may be wonderful compared to most schools in the country, it is still not ideal. People still pregame, people still drink in excessive amounts, and people still act irresponsibly while under the influence of alcohol.

Personally, I feel like the two biggest things that must happen on this campus to address this are that underage students must be virtually assured drinks at parties, and the health center must once again be open 24 hours of the day. I think the more open the drinking culture at Williams is, the healthier it will be. While it is currently a very open culture, it could certainly become even better in this sense.

#22 Comment By hwc On April 22, 2005 @ 1:45 am

Thanks, Noah. As I say, I respect your opinion.

Personally, I feel like the two biggest things that must happen on this campus to address this are that underage students must be virtually assured drinks at parties, and the health center must once again be open 24 hours of the day.

That is my personal opinion as well. In fact, it is the approach at my daughter’s school. Alcohol is freely available at campus parties, in dorms, with no effort to enforce the drinking age beyond the federally required official endorsement of state law.

They do check IDs at campus parties, but only to make sure that you are a registered student. They don’t want townie teenagers walking into parties and drinking. Not to mention that, a few years back, a state undercover alcohol bureau agent walked unabated into a campus party. With the ID checking, he would be stopped at the door and campus security would be called to escort him off campus. Once inside a party, there is no ID checking.

Also, the RAs do abide by the requirement that they not purchase alcohol for underage students — although since freshmen live in upperclass dorms, that’s not a big impediment.

One of the reasons that there is peer pressure to not get “stupid” is that the students know they have a sweetheart deal and that a few clowns could screw it up. Having upperclassmen in all the dorms also provides a strong peer pressure mechanism. A bunch of seniors on a hall are not going to hestitate to tell a bunch of freshmen when they are getting out of line.

In the interest of presenting both sides, many experts in the field of college alcohol abuse disagree vigorously with that approach. I understand their point. That kind of lax enforcement relies on a strong campus culture of student responsibility and effective peer pressure. Very few schools have that kind of community. It is difficult to justify that approach once the drinking scene has deteriorated to the point where multiple kids are being admitted each and every weekend to the health center or transported for alcohol poisoning.

The data is actually on the experts’ side. Strict enforcement does reduce binge drinking. However, I think a comprehensive approach has to center on changing the campus culture. Otherwise, it just ends up being an exercise in policing with less and less student “buy-in” to the effort.

#23 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On April 22, 2005 @ 10:29 am

Thankfully, the Williams campus alcohol stance is relatively in line with how I would like it to be. Campus security’s emphasis is on safe drinking rather than on enforcing underage drinking. Obviously the college is limited in its abilities to promote an open and safe drinking environment by the degree of WPD involvement (which seems to come and go in waves). I’d be surprised if the unofficial Williams policy is any different from the unofficial Swarthmore policy (it sounds identical from your description).

On the subject of the entry system, I’m firmly of the belief that JAs do the campus a positive service by providing their entries with alcohol. Obviously I don’t think that JAs are necessarily responsible for this, and I think that buying for the entry should be done in a responsible and careful manner. However, I think that campus culture is as safe as it is largely because of the JA system, and that many of the more serious frosh drinking problem arise when frosh obtain their alcohol through other means.

#24 Comment By Aidan On April 22, 2005 @ 10:54 am

Looking at some of this Harvard “alcohol” data, I’m starting to see what the problem is. For some reason, beer is defined (all-inclusive) as 12 oz of liquid. However, this is incorrect. Coors Light, which has less than 3% ABV, is not beer at all. It is water. Consequently any accounting system that takes into account water consumption is going to be skewed. Heck, aren’t we supposed to have 12 drinks of water a day or something?

I move for a redefinition of beer. Beer must have greater than 3% ABV, and should properly be served as a pint. If you aren’t drinking beer (or any of the other respectable boozahol species) you are drinking water.

This way, folks at Williams rarely, if ever, would “binge drink.”

#25 Comment By hwc On April 22, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned that new Diversity Report Dave has linked provides the 2003 surveyed binge drinking rates at Williams (see page 23 of the data PDF).

The survey used the Havard study male threshold (5 or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks), but did not appear to lower the threshold for women. So these binge drinking rates would be understated for women compared to the Harvard data:

White: 58%
Latino: 53%
Asian-American: 39%
African-American: 27%

The data does not list a binge drinking rate for the 5.8% percent of campus that is international or Native American. However, assuming that each race is representative and extrapolating the above rates based on the ethnic makeup of the campus in the spring of 2003 when the survey was conducted, the overall binge drinking rates would be:

50% (assuming the INTLs do not binge drink)
53% (assuming the INTLs binge at the same rate as the rest of the students)

The actual number probably falls somewhere in between those numbers.

If you adjust for the understating of women binge drinking, you’d probably end up with a binge drinking rate at Williams pretty close to that of Florida State University (55%).

These numbers are higher than what I had been told so they may have increased from the 1999 round of surveys.

#26 Comment By frank uible On April 23, 2005 @ 5:49 am

Relative to fesces being smeared on walls, I am reminded that the never discovered individual who practiced this art during the 1980s in the executive office men’s room of a certain St. Louis based Fortune 500 chemical company was waggishly christened the Mad Shitter by a company Vice President.