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Alcohol 101: the new freshman drinking requirement

How much is the right amount for an underage freshman to drink? The law says zero, but a mandatory online alcohol education course for Yale’s incoming class of 2017 has a more realistic answer: a couple of drinks during the “pregame” (a small gathering before a larger party) followed by one beer an hour for the rest of the night.

(Correction 8/23/2013: The course never recommends that students break the law. Its alcohol advice is prefixed with the words "If you choose to drink." And it requires students to read Yale's policy forbidding underage drinking and sign to confirm they've done so.)

Using the the slogan “You’re Smart. Drink Smart,” the program encourages new Yalies to approach their alcohol education seriously.

“We’ve seen both anecdotally and through the data we’ve been gathering that first-semester freshman are experiencing alcohol harms at really high rates,” says Garrett Fiddler ’11, program director for the Alcohol & Other Drugs Harm-Reduction Initiative. Common freshman mishaps range from noise complaints to hospitalization for alcohol poisoning; “that means we need to improve the ways we help incoming freshman adjust to Yale’s alcohol culture,” Fiddler says.

The AODHRI, a branch of the Yale Dean’s Office, has made the online course—a mix of videos and interactive slideshows—a requirement for all incoming freshman. “The programs that Yale is currently putting into action are on the cutting edge of alcohol harms reduction work,” Fiddler says.  

The program covers all facets of college drinking, including alcohol nomenclature, fake identification, and romance under the influence. One segment features two actual bartenders, who define what a “drink” is, explain blood alcohol content, and describe how to know when “you’ve had too much.”

A similar online platform was recently implemented at the University of Pennsylvania. Across the Ivies, Fiddler posits, the schools “try to encourage a positive and safe culture around alcohol, and we focus on education, messaging, alternate programming, and individual conversations, leaving disciplinary action as a necessary but last resort.”

“It’s very refreshing,” says Candler Rich ’17. "Many of my friends at larger state schools are about to become subject to a zero-tolerance policy, which often leads to reprimands for just being in the vicinity of alcohol.”

Also discussed are a variety of drugs (including ADHD medications), alcohol’s affect on studying and athletic performance, and medical emergencies. In one video, actors depict the repercussions of drinking on the community: noisy pregames, messy common rooms and drunken roommates are shown as a burden for many individuals who are not involved with the party.

“It’s great to see Yale moving preemptively to address problematic drinking instead of waiting to until disaster strikes,” Fiddler adds. The online course will accompany the several alcohol policy discussions typically had within freshman counseling groups during the first days of orientation.

Freshman residences open on August 23; classes begin August 28. 

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