There has been some interesting discussion on Ephblog of binge drinking recently (here and here).

Jeff Zeeman made the following claim:

re: state schools, I obviously can’t say anything definitive since I have no hard data. 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.

Well, I went to the US Dept. of Education site that HWC suggested and found the crime rates for the schools in question. I then divided the incidence rates by the number of students at the school and averaged over three years. You can download the small excel spreadsheet here.

Bottom-line (measured in incidents per 1,000 students):
Williams = 65
Penn State = 34
Rutgers = 21

So Williams has twice as many liquor law incidents as Penn State and three times as many as Rutgers.

Several important caveats are in order:
1) The data is self-reported by the institution.

2) The measure is of incidents the college knows about and enforcement rates could vary across institution (if you don’t look for it, you won’t find it).

3) More students live off-campus at state institutions than at Williams. The data DOES include reports from non-campus property (i.e., homes and bars) and public property, BUT enforcement is definitely lax off-campus and may under-estimate the true extent of problematic drinking.

My experience at large state schools was that most students don’t drink as much as the average Williams student with the important exception of members of the Greek system. Every frat party I have ever attended made Williams parties seem like temperance league meetings by comparison (and that includes some WUFO parties). There are exceptions to the rule to be sure: not all fraternities and sorrorities drink frequently; some non-affiliated students are booze hounds; many people at Williams don’t drink at all.

The data here is messy (for the reasons stated above and a few others), but consistent with HWC’s story that drinking at Williams is roughly the national average among college students. The degree you find the data troubling (or encouraging) is a matter of taste.

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