Stanford University updated its alcohol policy for undergraduates on Monday, prohibiting hard alcohol from on-campus parties and placing a blanket ban on any liquor bottles 750 milliliters or more.
The school noted the change intended to confront the culture on campus surrounding alcohol and noted its contribution to sexual assaults.
Experts, however, have not given the ban and related call to action a warm welcome.
“The policy scapegoats alcohol, misplacing culpability from perpetrators to the tool they use to carry out assault,” Colleen Daly, director of communications at advocacy organisation End Rape on Campus, told Business Insider. “This policy is both misguided and ineffective as it perpetuates the myth that alcohol, rather than rapists causes rape.”
Other similarly excoriated the university for providing a so-called solution, which they feel will ultimately prove unsuccessful, to the issue of sexual assault.
“I think it’s shortsighted and makes people and parents feel like the university is doing something, but its not really getting to the underlying belief systems or culture values,” Kristen Houser, vice president of communications for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told Business Insider.
“The idea that alcohol is what causes sexual assault is an over simplification,” she continued. “Policies like this may be well intended but unintentionally reinforce that alcohol is the problem, not that we have a handful of students on campus who are using alcohol strategically to commit very serious crimes.”
Instead, Houser proposed that Stanford focus efforts on changing the culture of rape on campus by increasing funding to speakers and trainers well equipped to change the dialogue, as well as forming stronger bonds with activists on campus.
“We have done all of those things to combat sexual assault,” Stanford University spokesperson Lisa Lapin told Business Insider.
At the same time, Stanford seems to be distancing itself from the notion that the ban correlated with discussions about decreasing sexual assault, despite the original announcement making several references.
“This policy is about binge drinking,” Lapin added. “The impetus for these changes is to reduce incidents of alcohol-related medical transports.”
Aside from scepticism about reducing sexual assault, experts on alcohol abuse also seem cautious to decide the future efficacy of Stanford’s ban on hard alcohol.
“Bans like these are pretty well intentioned, and it is true that you can get intoxicated more quickly with distilled beverages than you can with beer and wine,” George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Business Insider.
“The downside is a lot of time alcohol is alcohol, and individuals who want to drink excessively are going to find ways to do it that don’t involved distilled beverages.”
“Sometimes when you ban things it’s kind of like whack-a-mole; they find a way to pop up in other contexts off campus,” Koob added, acknowledging a popular argument that bans on alcohol can instead drive drinking underground.
He was quick to point out, however, that prohibiting alcohol consumption for anyone under the age of 21 has saved thousands of lives.
Stanford University is certainly not the only college to face issues of sexual assault. About one in four women are sexually assaulted during their time in college, according to national statistics. A high-profile trial of one of Stanford’s former students, however, made the university a flash point for anger and frustration.
In June, Brock Turner, a former Stanford student and star swimmer, was convicted on three counts of sexual assault of an unconscious woman outside of a fraternity house. A judge sentenced Turner to just six months in jail, despite massive outcry.
In a sentencing note, Turner partly blamed Stanford’s “party culture” for his actions. He wrote:
“I wake up having dreamt of these horrific events that I have caused. I am completely consumed by my poor judgment and ill thought actions … I’ve been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behaviour that I briefly experienced in my four months at school.”
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