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Stanford's New Hard Liquor Ban Actually Isn't Unusual

Such regulations have become more popular since Dartmouth College adopted a ban in 2015.

Stanford University unveiled on Monday a new policy banning hard liquor at registered undergraduate student parties, limiting the size of liquor bottles that students of age can have on campus, and restricting grad students from taking shots at on-campus parties. 

Many news outlets have covered the announcement as an unheard-of decision and a tone-deaf response to the issue of campus rape, but Stanford appears to be following the lead of several other universities.

In January 2015, Dartmouth College unveiled a policy banning hard liquor on campus as part of a plan to address binge-drinking, hazing and sexual assault. A month later, Purdue University’s fraternities banned hard liquor on chapter properties or at member events. Fraternities at the University of Kansas and University of Missouri followed suit later that spring. 

And none of these schools were original when they came up with hard liquor bans: Colby College in Maine adopted one in 2010. There are similar policies in place at many of Colby’s peer institutions ― Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Swarthmore, Williams and Colgate University.

“Late-night hospital transports, violence and sexual assault are often associated with hard alcohol consumption,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “In response to these public health issues, some colleges are trying to reduce access to hard alcohol through the ban.”

Stanford is the largest school, aside from the University of Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis, to enact such a ban on spirits. 

The only unique element of Stanford’s new policy is that the school has requirements about what size liquor containers are permitted on campus.

Hard liquor is banned at any parties on the Palo Alto, California, campus where undergraduate students are present, but beer and wine is allowed. Liquor is allowed at events where only graduate students are present, as long as people aren’t taking shots. Alcohol on campus must be kept in its original container, which can’t be larger than 750 milliliters.

The university decided to regulate alcohol container sizes because it believes finding stores near campus that sell pints or half-pints of liquor will be difficult, the school explained in a campuswide message announcing these new regulations. 

Many outlets have connected these new rules to the case of Brock Turner, a former Stanford student who earlier this year was found guilty of sexual assault. Wire services like The Associated Press and McClatchy noted the policy change “comes after” Turner’s conviction and sentencing. The Daily Mail said it was explicitly because of the Turner case.

However, the message announcing the regulations did not reference Turner. It also did not mention sexual violence. 

The potential connection between on-campus sexual assault and the new policy may be a statement that Stanford President John L. Hennessy issued in March, after Turner was convicted but before he was sentenced. In it, Hennessy said alcohol, particularly hard liquor, leads to “sexual assault and relationship violence.”

The following month, students voted for a resolution that opposed a hard liquor ban on campus. Stanford apparently didn’t listen to the student vote.

The rationale behind these liquor bans often goes back to a 2001 study from Harvard University researchers, which showed schools with alcohol bans were more likely to have a lower percentage of heavy, binge-drinkers. Alcohol bans, however, did not totally eliminate binge-drinking from a campus. 

“Some are concerned that this drives students off-campus and perhaps into cars to the local college bars and thus makes it more dangerous and more difficult to control and manage when it goes off-campus,” Kruger said.

Another study from Harvard in 2004, from the same lead researcher, concluded that rape was more common at colleges with higher rates of binge-drinking, and that alcohol was involved in a majority of sexual assaults taking place on these campuses. That study advised colleges to “give increased attention to educating male students that one of the first questions they must ask themselves before initiating sex with a woman is whether she is capable of giving consent.” 

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Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers sexual violence and is based in New York. You can reach him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade. 

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