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Opinion: Dry, dry devils

ASU’s current drug and alcohol policy fails to prioritize the safety of students


Opinion: Dry, dry devils

ASU’s current drug and alcohol policy fails to prioritize the safety of students

ASU may officially be known on billboards and banners as No. 1 in innovation, but the school has cultivated a different, less coveted national ranking over the decades: a widespread reputation as one of the top party schools in the country. Provocative publications like Playboy lauded ASU in the 2000s and early 2010s for its intense party culture.

But back in the '80s, ASU students found their right to drink the partier's beverage of choice — alcohol — was under siege. In 1981, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt proposed to raise the state's legal drinking age from 19 to 21. This sparked an impassioned student uprising across the state at all three of Arizona's public universities, according to The Arizona Republic. But in the end, the students lost. To ring in New Year's Day 1985, a state law signed the year before took effect, raising Arizona's minimum drinking age to 21.

Just a year later, ASU partiers suffered yet another loss: The University, which had previously permitted alcohol on its grounds, became a dry campus, meaning that students of any age would be prohibited from drinking alcohol on its grounds. Fast forward to now, and the policy still stands — ASU has been a dry campus for nearly 40 years.

While some view ASU's dry campus policy as an unenforced joke at a university still widely considered a party school, others see it as a necessary safeguard for students' well-being. Regardless, the school's dry campus policy doesn’t seem to have prevented alcohol use and abuse on and around campus, so what does it really do for students?

Ultimately, it serves as a transparent curtain that's clumsily attempted to conceal the University's decadeslong reputation of revelry. But with liquor stores across the street from dorms, bars just steps from campus and The Pub in the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU Downtown Phoenix, the dry campus policy only perpetuates a secretive culture around alcohol that threatens students' safety and well-being.

READ MORE: Satire: Yeah, we're definitely a dry campus

Policy to policy, a new age 

ASU's current approach to managing alcohol use on campus is to ban it altogether, a mirror of the school's desert home: dry and barren.

"ASU strives to create a healthy environment in which the illegal or improper use of alcohol and other drugs and controlled substances does not interfere with learning, performance, employment, residential living, or development," states the University's current drug and alcohol policy, implemented on Nov. 1, 1985, as the philosophy behind the dry campus rule.

It's essentially impossible for any student who's lived in an ASU dormitory to be unaware that any consumption of alcoholic drinks or ownership of kegs, bongs (beer and otherwise), shot glasses, alcohol funnels and any other type of alcohol or drug paraphernalia is prohibited in residential halls.

It's an unbending rule that's plastered on hallway posters inside the dorms and repeated throughout the year by University Housing staff. It's a part of the culture — it's a dry campus.

It wasn’t always this way, though. ASU's current alcohol policy is overly restrictive, but it used to be more open. The previous policy allowed students of legal drinking age to make the "personal choice" of whether they wanted to drink on campus. Under it, ASU was a wet campus, meaning that students of legal drinking age were allowed to consume alcohol on the University's grounds.

"The university is committed to maintaining an environment conducive to intellectual and personal development of students and to the safety and welfare of all members of the university community," the former policy stated. "This includes encouraging responsible drinking habits by those individuals who consume alcoholic beverages and respecting the rights of those individuals who otherwise choose not to use alcohol."

Take away the dry versus wet campus element, and the language of the University's previous alcohol policy is extremely similar to the current rule's. Both were born from the philosophy that every student should have the most educational, enjoyable and healthy experience possible on campus. The key difference is that now, even responsible, legal alcohol usage seems to have no place in this environment.

Alongside the school's flat-out ban on alcohol, specific restrictions have also been added for different drugs over the years.

As state and federal policies, as well as national attitudes, surrounding these substances have changed, ASU's policy feels stale and outdated. It seems the University figured students couldn't possibly pursue a worthwhile education and drink responsibly at the same time.

But what if you can?

A reputation, drenched

Almost all ASU students know that Halloween is one of the school's premier holidays — students may be cloaked in costumes, but the University’s party school reputation is on full display. So it wasn’t atypical when Tatianna Gladu-Lesniewski, a sophomore studying forensic science, stumbled upon a pair of visibly drunk girls outside her dorm around Halloween 2022. Rather than abandoning them to their own devices, she and her friends checked up on the girls, provided them with water and electrolytes, and offered them rides home.

Her experience that night pointed out the glaring need for students to be educated on safety precautions when consuming alcohol and partaking in the party culture that permeates and surrounds campus. Realizing the University had failed to sufficiently fulfill this need, she took this responsibility into her own hands and founded Sun Devil Sips, a club dedicated to creating "a community of educated individuals that look out for each other to avoid potentially harmful situations involving alcohol," according to its Sun Devil Sync page.

"If people want to partake in alcohol and engage in those activities, they will find a way to do it, regardless if ASU is a dry campus or not," Gladu-Lesniewski said.

That’s because rules don't create boundaries — people do. They do it for themselves, for one another and for entire universities. For many, college is an experimental version of adulthood. It's a time when many students awkwardly attempt to familiarize themselves with maturity for the first time, taking it on and off at will like a costume. A large aspect of that maturity is drawing hard lines for yourself regarding substance use.

It's letting go of people who invade your comfort zone when it comes to substance use. It's saying no to Friday night party plans because you need time alone. It's knowing when to look at the substance use habits of yourself and the people around you, and when to decide something has to change.

These are completely personal decisions. No policy or guideline will stand in the way of someone who wants to use a substance, so it’s not safe to act like it does. All it does is push those who want to use substances to do so in secret.


Alcohol may be the name of the dry campus game, but it isn't students' only substance of choice. As with alcohol, an all-out ban is also ASU's approach to the use of many drugs, even for some federally legal substances, like tobacco.

In 2013, ASU became a tobacco-free campus after banning the use of the substance on all school grounds "to promote health and wellness in the ASU community," according to ASU News.

Just six years later, in 2019, the University also prohibited vaping on campus for the sake of students' health and safety, but some in the ASU community criticized the ban for "demoniz(ing)" the habit, which is a popular alternative for those trying to quit smoking cigarettes, according to The State Press.

Vaping proliferates among college students — out of all adults, those aged 18–24 were most likely to use e-cigarettes, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2021. Just take a look at the rows of neon-colored, candy-sweet e-cigarettes that stock the shelves of convenience stores around campus, and it’s not hard to see evidence that supports the statistic in real life.

Like any drug, nicotine alters users' brain chemistry, compelling them to chase the same dopamine rush with every hit or drag. The more nicotine a person intakes, the more dopamine receptors the brain creates to handle the sheer amount of the chemical, a process known as upregulation.

"The brain is used to that nicotine being there to stimulate all those added receptors to increase the dopamine levels," said Scott Leischow, a research professor in the College of Health Solutions who studies nicotine addiction and the process of quitting smoking. "So if you take away the nicotine, then the dopamine levels that a person is used to drop a lot. The absence of the added dopamine is why withdrawal symptoms occur."

Along with the pain of withdrawal symptoms, Leischow said quitting the drug could only become more difficult if the user were in an environment where nicotine use is common, as the case may be for ASU students looking to kick the habit. In a 2019 survey by ASU Wellness, over 1 in 8 students reported that they had vaped in the past 30 days, and over 1 in 20 reported smoking cigarettes within the same timeframe.

On a campus where substance use is so common, Lesichow recommended that students trying to quit a substance place distance between themselves and the people around them who practice the habit they’re trying to break.

"If a person is dependent on a product and they want to discontinue it, there’s value in trying to stay away from the product and the use of those products, and that may mean staying away from the people that use them for some period of time," he said.

Whether it be drinking, smoking or vaping, the bottom line is this: People create these boundaries only if they want to. No policies or bans can make the decision for them, so why keep pretending that these rules will?

The policy down south

The dry campus way may be the only way at ASU, but not all universities take the same approach. In fact, travel a little over 100 miles south of ASU, and you'll find that the language of the University of Arizona's current alcohol policy is very similar to ASU's more permissive former policy.

"The University of Arizona recognizes that the use of alcoholic beverages by those of legal age is a matter of personal choice," UA’s rule states. "The University requires that those who choose to drink on University property abide by state law and University regulations, and expects that such individuals will conduct themselves responsibly, mindful of the rights of others."

Unlike ASU, UA is a wet campus, so students of legal drinking age can consume alcohol on campus — within reason. But UA's decision to allow of-age students to drink on campus has come with some repercussions, according to Trinity Gary, a senior at UA studying ecology and evolutionary biology, along with communication.

Even though UA's wet campus rule allows students to drink on campus, the privilege applies to students of legal drinking age only. But enforcement of the school's ban on providing alcohol to minors and alcohol consumption by underage students is fairly relaxed, which can lead to unsafe situations, according to Gary.

"I have friends on the EMS teams here, and they'll get calls every weekend about someone on campus, some freshman in a dorm needing to go to the hospital because they’re so blackout drunk," she said. "All drugs have been so normalized here."

Wet campus or dry campus, ASU and UA are plagued by some of the same problems involving substance use and alcohol consumption. So is there really one "correct" policy?

As of right now, there isn't. Instead, conversations about substance use need to go beyond policy — they need to be about people, about what best benefits the student body.

I don't have all the answers or a steadfast solution. But I know through my personal experiences as a student that the dry campus policy has failed to keep every student safe, happy and healthy, which should be some of the school's top priorities. ASU's dry campus policy feels like a finger-wag while UA's seems to be no more than a shrug.

Neither is what students deserve.

Edited by Camila Pedrosa, Savannah Dagupion and Madeline Nguyen.

This story is part of The Culture Issue, which was released on Feb. 28, 2024. See the entire publication here.

Reach the reporter at and follow @abbygisela on X.

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