On Aug. 27, The North-American Interfraternity Conference, or NIC, implemented a hard alcohol ban requiring that by Sept. 1, 2019, alcoholic beverages with more than 15 percent alcohol by volume will no longer be allowed on fraternity property nationally. According to the NIC’s website, this new protocol shows the conference’s intention to combat problems associated with binge drinking by “creating an industry-wide standard.”
With such a large cultural change, there are naturally plenty of questions about its potential impact on Greek life nationally and on the Greek community at UC Berkeley. Undoubtedly, the Greek community will hope to see fewer alcohol transports, reduced instances of overconsumption and generally safer social interactions. But it’s important that the questions we ask about the cultural implications of banning hard alcohol do not include, “How will this stop sexual violence on college campuses?”
The hard alcohol ban is a direct response to serious issues such as hazing and deaths due to overconsumption, but it is not a direct response to sexual violence — nor will it be a solution. The difference is critical to note, because perceiving the hard alcohol ban as a fix-it to sexual violence shifts blame onto survivors.
At the end of the day, the argument that hard alcohol consumption and sexual violence rates have a cause-and-effect relationship feeds into the victim-blaming narrative. This usually perpetuates the idea that it is up to the survivor to choose behaviors that reduce their own risk for harm. It is not — nor should it ever be — a survivor’s responsibility to “drink less” or to avoid drinking hard liquor to optimize their own safety.
The solutions to reducing sexual violence rates are not found in the regulation or deregulation of substance consumption. They’re found in addressing problematic cultural norms, implementing continuous sexual violence education and holding communities accountable in all areas of campus life. Social norms and cultural norms are the standards that our own environments set (explicitly or indirectly) that impact how affirmative consent culture operates. Thus, making these standards and cultures inclusive and healthy for survivors and individuals is our best bet at remedying the sexual violence epidemic.
At UC Berkeley, consent education modules are required for membership in organizations such as Cal Athletics, CalGreeks and the Berkeley Student Cooperative. These are a start to normalizing healthy dialogue regarding affirmative consent and healthy intimacy culture. Additionally, Cal’s own Responsible Bystander Policy encourages reporting by allowing individuals under the influence to report potentially harmful behaviors or call emergency services without being tried in a Student Code of Conduct violation process for their own substance consumption.
These efforts have helped address norms by starting honest conversations, and they equip community members with the tools necessary to impact meaningful changes in their community. Offering standardized consent education, providing resources on harm reduction and safe reporting and making space for communities to discuss ideas allows for the progression of social norms in a healthy direction. Furthermore, when students are empowered to lead and guide the changes they would like to see in their own spaces, change is able to start internally within organizations, groups and cultural communities.
It’s an undeniable truth that epidemic sexual violence still exists on college campuses, including our own. But regulating beverage consumption should not be seen as a “solution” or as a prevention tactic for reducing rates of sexual violence. Assuming that regulating alcohol flow will cause a reduction in sexual violence is akin to blaming a survivor because “they had too much to drink.”
What survivors need is thoughtful support and survivor-centered solutions. The communities most impacted need to be central and not just listened to, but heard. We also need to be addressing preventative solutions that don’t put them at fault for their assault. We need to be honestly discussing consent. We need to honestly talk about what healthy intimacy feels like (and what it doesn’t feel like). We need to honestly talk about ways your community is thriving and ways it may be hurting.
These conversations won’t be easy, nor will they happen overnight. But ultimately, our campus community has a responsibility to work collectively to address social norms that make our fellow Bears uncomfortable, vulnerable and unsafe. Furthermore, addressing the norms that exist at the top of our campus, within our clubs and within our organizations prevents the negative effects of norms from flowing downstream and harming individuals.
A healthy campus climate is one that takes care of its students. Failing to address problematic social norms that promote rape culture and intimate partner violence puts us all at risk. Failing to hold communities accountable allows the sexual violence crisis to continue to claim more victims. Addressing sexual violence cultures involves honest conversations, genuine outreach and thoughtful engagement — not regulating what flows into a cup.
Amma Sarkodee-Adoo and Zach Carter are ASUC senators and juniors majoring in Political Science at UC Berkeley.