New guidelines spark concerns by students as Princeton seeks to combat dangerous behavior

New University guidelines aimed at reducing heavy drinking in the dorms would increase monitoring of alcohol use, but students have protested that the changes could drive drinking further underground and change the role of residential college advisers (RCAs).

Under the new guidelines, Public Safety officers have begun to patrol dormitories on weekend nights. In addition, RCAs are now required to “take action to stop the violation” when they encounter a “significant violation” of University rules. A list of frequently asked questions and answers concerning the policy, prepared after a request by the Undergraduate Student Government, is available at http://

The new strategies, which were reported in The Daily Princetonian in November, came eight months after the alcohol-related death of a student at nearby Rider University. There has been growing concern about a culture of heavy drinking among students, particularly during dormitory “pre-gaming,” when students consume large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time before going out to “the Street.”

“We have, every year, a number of students who consume alcohol at a level that is really dangerous,” Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan said at a sparsely attended forum on the issue Dec. 6. “We are calling upon some of our best students in important leadership roles to try and help us shift that culture.”

A Universitywide alcohol coalition, composed mostly of students but also including faculty and staff, has been formed to develop a plan by May to encourage responsible drinking behaviors among students.

Under the previous RCA guidelines, advisers were expected to intervene by calling Public Safety in situations where advisees’ drinking behavior presented an “immediate threat” to persons or property. The revisions call on RCAs to intervene in situations that “may become dangerous,” explained Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Hilary Herbold at the December forum. RCAs may persuade students to wrap up dangerous parties on their own, or they may call upon Public Safety. Herbold listed “number of people, amount of alcohol, and behavior of people present” as factors upon which advisers should determine whether and how to intervene.

About 200 students responded to an e-mail from Undergraduate Student Government president Rob Biederman ’08 asking for feedback on the new guidelines. “Only two of them were in favor of the policy,” Biederman said.

While some students expressed concern about the Public Safety patrols, most student complaints dealt with the new RCA guidelines.

A primary concern was that the RCA policy would fundamentally alter the adviser-advisee relationship, turning the RCA into an “enemy” instead of a mentor and friend. Students also mentioned fears that underage students could place themselves in more danger by drinking in greater secrecy than they do now, for fear of being caught. “It’s just going to make the forbidden-fruit problem worse,” said Kyle Smith ’09.

Mathey RCA Julia Schwartz ’08 said that although she believes a good RCA can continue to foster a trusting relationship with advisees, she was concerned that the policy “might encourage drinking in a worse way, such as drinking shots quickly for fear a party will get busted.”

USG vice president Josh Weinstein ’09 said the USG should have been consulted on the policy revisions. “If we were in the discussion at the beginning, we could have helped alleviate some of the concerns,” he said.

Mathey College Master Antoine Kahn replied that RCAs were involved in the discussions and given the opportunity to make slight changes before the guidelines were announced. “At the end, I don’t believe there was more than one or two [RCAs] out of 87 who objected to the situation,” he said.

Butler Master Sanjeev Kulkarni, co-chairman of the new alcohol coalition, said the group is planning a series of workshops in February to examine the problems caused by heavy drinking and to brainstorm solutions that would appeal to both administrators and students.