Dalhousie bans booze during orientation week in ‘harm-reduction’ effort

Dalhousie University is banning booze from its residences during orientation week this year, but will rely on education and not punishment to encourage first-year and other incoming students to make better decisions around alcohol.  “Our main goal here is to practice alcohol harm-reduction programming,” Cory Larsen, Dalhousie Student Union’s vice-president of student life, said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon.  “Our whole reason for this is exactly to shift that culture as seeing orientation week as a party-hard week to more of an educational, integrative, getting-used-to-your-surroundings week.”

Orientation week at Dalhousie begins on Saturday. Larsen said the pilot project aims to keep students safe, rather than “trying to outlaw or ban or punish students who drink.”  Residences at Dalhousie will use a “restorative justice process” to deal with students who break the drinking rule, Larsen said, and not resort to fines or other penalties.  The process involves “having a conversation with them, asking why they chose to drink … and trying to steer them toward making better choices,” he said.

A number of tragic cases in Nova Scotia involving binge drinking deaths helped shape this program, Larsen said, including a 2015 incident that involved an international student dying from alcohol poisoning and a 2011 incident at Acadia University.

Acadia University has also banned alcohol from its dorm rooms during orientation week, a policy that’s been in place since 2012.

Ban a pause for thought?

Ryan Callahan, a student who came to Dalhousie from Memorial University Newfoundland, said he thinks the ban in residences will cut down excessive drinking on campus.  “It kind of makes people consider that, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be drinking too much,'” said Callahan.

Casey Jones, another student at Dalhousie, thinks students will continue to drink but that the ban for orientation week is a good idea.  “I’m sure they will still find avenues to do it,” said Jones. “But I think it’s a good precaution of the university to do so. We’ve obviously had lots of safety issues in the past with first-year students, especially when they’re all underage of course for the most part.”

Drinking off campus

Victoria Chambers, a Dalhousie University student from Wolfville, N.S., doesn’t think a ban will help problems with drinking on campus.  “It will kind of encourage students to go off of campus where they can’t be as closely monitored by people in residence,” said Chambers.

“A lot of students are coming here, they’re drinking for the first time and they don’t really know how to drink properly, so if they’re in an area where they can seek out help it’s more condusive to their overall safety.”

The alcohol ban in residences only lasts orientation week.

While Larsen acknowledges some students will still choose to drink during orientation week, he said if students turn up at the residence drunk, they will not be turned away.  “They’re young adults, they have every right to make their own choices and our job is to provide them with the education,” Larsen said.

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