Limiting alcohol during professional events

Recently, the Geological Society of America (GSA) published a news item. At the bottom was this note: “In keeping with its ongoing commitment to ethics and inclusion, Council approved a recommendation from the Committee on Diversity in the Geosciences to prohibit alcohol being served in the oral and poster session areas at all GSA meetings and events.

GSA Council recently approved a recommendation submitted by the Committee on Diversity in the Geosciences (membership here) – this recommendation asked for prohibition of alcohol use during professional talks and posters and laid out clear and specific rationales for why alcohol in professional spaces is problematic. With permission of the rest of my Committee members and assurances from GSA, here is the full final proposal.

What specifically did GSA Council approve? GSA Council approved this recommendation “Recognizing that the presence of alcohol during conference events can inhibit participation by some attendees and recognizing that speakers, presenters, and attendees must be present during talk and poster sessions, GSA should prohibit alcohol in the poster hall and oral sessions while technical sessions are occurring.”

What did GSA Council receive? The proposal contained argument and evidence related to alcohol consumption and professional space. I uploaded a WORD file and also paste the text below.

I hope this is useful for others working towards more equitable and safe spaces in any discipline.

Recommendation to Geological Society of America (GSA) regarding alcohol service during talks and posters

Recognizing that the presence of alcohol during conference events can inhibit participation by some attendees and recognizing that speakers, presenters, and attendees must be present during talk and poster sessions, GSA should prohibit alcohol in the poster hall and oral sessions while technical sessions are occurring.

Discussion: We, the Committee on Diversity in the Geosciences, encourage GSA Council to establish an alcohol policy as recommended above. We make this recommendation for the following reasons:

  1. The provisioning of alcohol during technical sessions limits the ability of specific groups to fully participate in technical sessions. Groups that may be negatively impacted by the presence of alcohol during technical sessions include:
    • Individuals with alcohol or drug dependency
    • Individuals with religious restrictions on being in the presence of alcohol
    • Individuals with family history of drug or alcohol dependency
    • Individuals with history of negative incidents, and particularly sexual or physical assault, associated with alcohol consumption
    • Individuals who feel uncomfortable presenting to an attendee who has consumed alcohol and who is acting unprofessionally, or whose behavior otherwise causes the presenter to feel uncomfortable
    • Individuals who feel uncomfortable listening to a presentation from a presenter who has consumed alcohol and who is acting unprofessionally, or whose behavior otherwise causes the attendee to feel uncomfortable
  2. Estimates of the relationship between alcohol use and sexual assault suggest that alcohol[1] plays a role in nearly half of all sexual assault events in the United States.
  3. Research among young adult populations suggests that the presence of alcohol increases the likelihood of acquaintance sexual assault[2]
  4. GSA has a duty of care for its attendees. Duty of care is both a legal and an ethical concept – ethically, this means that as a professional society, GSA is responsible for its meeting attendees and should take reasonable steps to ensure safety.[3] Limiting GSA provision of alcohol to times outside of technical sessions is a simple way for GSA to engage in ethical steps to ensure duty of care.

We would prefer that GSA stop serving alcohol during meetings but recognize that alcohol access outside of posters and oral sessions is less problematic than alcohol service during events that presenters and audiences must attend.


[1] Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. O., Clinton, A. M., & McAuslan, P. (2001). Alcohol and sexual assault. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25(1), 43–51.

[2] Abbey A. (2002). Alcohol-related sexual assault: a common problem among college students. Journal of studies on alcohol. Supplement, (14), 118–128. doi:10.15288/jsas.2002.s14.118

[3] https://www.meetingstoday.com/magazines/article-details/articleid/32184/title/duty-of-care-simplified-a-meeting-planner-s-guide

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