The Committee to Address Alcohol and Health at Harvard, formed in November 2003, has presented its report to Provost Steven E. Hyman and Dean of the College
Benedict H. Gross, recommending a broad series of initiatives – many of them calling for extensive involvement of students – aimed at both reducing dangerous drinking at Harvard and at helping students better understand responsible drinking in the context of overall physical and mental health and college life.
“A nightmare for every house master is a student tragedy caused by alcohol,” said committee chair Joseph L. Badaracco, master of Currier House and Harvard Business School professor. “All of us, including students, have to work together to keep this from happening.”
“Dangerous drinking is a serious problem on many college campuses that affects the health and well-being of our students,” said Hyman. “I thank the Committee on Alcohol and Health for their hard work studying this problem and suggesting strategies for responding to it. I look forward to reviewing these recommendations and working with Dean Gross to implement them.”
“The first step in any solution of a problem is to examine it carefully, and I want to thank Professor Badaracco and the members of the committee for the many hours that they have put into this,” said Gross, who is the Leverett Professor of Mathematics. “Dangerous drinking is an issue of great concern. There is no simple solution; we will have to work closely with student groups to have an impact on it.”
The committee, formed as part of Harvard’s continuing effort to address issues of alcohol and health that have affected college-age students here and nationwide, targeted “dangerous drinking” – drinking that leads to alcohol poisoning, death, or chronic abuse – in its report. The report also underscores other hazards of alcohol abuse, including injury and sexual assault.
The report recommends that efforts to reduce dangerous drinking should involve students and student leaders in significant ways, because students are often the first and only ones who know when a fellow student is dangerously intoxicated. Further, the committee recommends that education on responsible drinking, including peer-to-peer education, begin with first-year students. This approach acknowledges that while the University must not provide a safe haven for underage drinking, it has a responsibility to educate students more fully about the risks associated with drinking.
Other recommendations aimed at reducing dangerous drinking include:
Redefining the roles of proctors and tutors, reframing their disciplinary duties so that they support students’ health and safety;
Clarifying disciplinary standards for alcohol-related infractions to ensure that students do not avoid seeking assistance for fear of disciplinary action;
Anticipating “big events” such as the Head of the Charles regatta or the Harvard-Yale football game with planning dedicated to dangerous drinking;
Facilitating a working relationship with Final Clubs, fraternities, and sororities aimed at reducing dangerous drinking among students;
Exploring effective intervention and referral services at other schools to consider expansion of these services at Harvard; and
Gathering and disseminating data that support the University’s alcohol efforts.
As the committee examined dangerous drinking in the broader context of college life and student wellness, it made several additional recommendations. The College should look for and expand social opportunities for undergraduates that do not involve alcohol and should make student mental and physical health a higher priority within the duties of proctors and tutors. Further effort should examine the needs of graduate students for help with alcohol-related issues.
Finally, the committee recommends that the University better communicate its policy that students can bring an intoxicated friend to University Health Services (UHS) or to proctors, tutors, or Harvard police without risking disciplinary action to the student or themselves. In several student forums it conducted, the committee learned that this important policy is not as widely known as it should be and that this could inhibit students from seeking potentially life-saving assistance. The report emphasizes that the University has an obligation to enforce state and federal alcohol laws but also to care for the health of its students.
The committee included a mix of students, faculty members, administrators, and health professionals. Committee members were Joseph Badaracco (committee chair), Harvard Business School professor and Master of Currier House; Keli Ballinger, manager, Center for Wellness and Health Communication at UHS; Allan Brandt, Faculty of Arts and Sciences chair of the Department of History of Science and Harvard Medical School (HMS) professor of History of Medicine; Grace Chang, associate professor of psychiatry at HMS; Chris Coley, chief of medicine to UHS, and HMS instructor; Tom Dingman, associate dean of Harvard College and Allston Burr Senior Tutor of Dudley House; Charles Ducey, former director, Bureau of Study Counsel; Jay Ellison, Allston Burr Senior Tutor in Lowell House and lecturer in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Unronna Gaillard, Leverett House ’04; Susan Marine, director, Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response; Sujit Raman, freshman proctor and 2L at Harvard Law School; Javier Valle, Adams House ’04; and Lacey Whitmire, Currier House ’05.