Improve alcohol education, not crackdown

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is spending $70,000 to cut down on underage drinking in Oakland, Squirrel Hill’s Rep. Dan Frankel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The money was split into two grants, with $40,000 going to the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, and the remaining $30,000 going to Carnegie Mellon’s University Police.

The allocation for the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation will be used to hire off-duty police officers to crack down on alcohol-related crimes and code violations. They will gather data on drinking to target outreach programs with landlords and students. The executive director of the corporation, Wanda Wilson, said that she will crack down on pay-to-enter house parties, which promote dangerous drinking. University Police will use its share to provide additional training for officers, and pay for increased underage drinking patrols.

Underage drinking is a concern at Carnegie Mellon, as it is at every institution of higher learning, but a focus on catching students seems to miss the point. While breaking up large house parties to reduce high-risk drinking is worthwhile, spending more money on catching students is unlikely to deter them from drinking in significant ways.

The money might be better spent educating students about alcohol in more effective ways, and giving them better risk assessment tools for the still-likely event that they drink. Online alcohol education is the punchline of many jokes on campus, and for good reason. Every year students find ways to skip the inconceivably outdated videos. The quizzes are no real guarantee of understanding and students have little motivation to do the program — even less to invest in how they do it.

Providing more engaged learning may deter drinking more than crackdowns would. More hands-on learning, possibly through a single weekend class, could give students more motivation to digest the material presented to them traditionally through online programs.

Carnegie Mellon’s University Police and the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation should not waste money working to reduce drinking significantly; students will continue to drink, and may resort to more risky drinking in less suitable locations than houses, in response to crackdowns. Risky drinking could be made riskier in unsafe locations. Instead, the grants should go toward helping students drink more responsibly.