WATERVILLE — Hard alcohol will be banned from parties and dorms at Colby College when students return to campus for the fall semester.

Colby will join Bowdoin and Bates colleges in banning hard alcohol, aiming to reduce the incidence of alcohol poisoning on campus.

“We don’t have students ending up in the hospital because they’ve had too many beers to drink,” said Dean of Students Jim Terhune. “Our focus is on eliminating the dangerous drinking.”

The policy is changing more than two years after nearly 20 students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning following a now-defunct annual tradition called Champagne on the Steps, in which seniors marked the end of classes by drinking on the steps of Colby’s library.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said the drinking culture at the college appears to have improved since then, and the new policy should help further that progress. Some students, however, think the ban on hard alcohol is overreaching.

“It’s Colby grossly overstepping (its) boundaries,” said Clare Saunders, 19, who will be a junior at the college when classes start Sept. 8. “If you’re 21 or 22 years old, you should be able to drink whatever you want.”

Saunders said it feels like the college is trying to baby-sit the students.

“The overall consensus is, why?” said Lester Batiste, who will be a sophomore.

Every time a Colby student has been hospitalized for excessive drinking, hard alcohol has been involved, Terhune said. That fact influenced the work of a group that recently reviewed the college’s alcohol policy.

The group of students, faculty members and administrators looked at the alcohol policies at other colleges for guidance and found that Bowdoin and Bates had banned hard alcohol from their campuses.

The policy at Bates, implemented in 2001, prohibits anyone from possessing or drinking hard alcohol on campus, said Doug Hubley of the college’s Office of Communications and Media Relations.

For at least 15 years, Bowdoin hasn’t allowed hard liquor in college housing, said Doug Boxer-Cook, a spokesman for Bowdoin.

Colby’s new policy prohibits students of any age from possessing or drinking hard alcohol on campus, though it still can be sold to students at the campus pub and allowed at privately catered functions, Terhune said.

There also are new guidelines for disciplining students who violate the rules. Punishments increase with repeat offenses and are harsher when hard alcohol is involved.

For example, a student who is caught providing beer or wine to an underage student can be suspended on the third offense. For providing hard alcohol, a student can be suspended on the first offense and expelled on the second offense.

Batiste, 20, said he’s not a big drinker, but he knows that for many Colby students, drinking is an integral part of the college experience.

Terhune said the change in policy is part of an effort to shift the culture of student life away from excessive drinking.

After Champagne on the Steps in 2008, the college’s trustees approved a resolution ending the tradition and directing the college to address abusive drinking on campus.

The Campus Culture Working Group was formed. Last fall, it issued a list of recommendations for improving the drinking culture at the college, including offering more intellectually focused activities on weekends, creating an alcohol awareness and treatment center, and changing the policy regarding hard liquor.

If the purpose of the new policy is to discourage binge drinking, Saunders said, it could have the opposite effect. Some students don’t like the taste of beer, she said, and if they can’t drink hard alcohol at parties, they might be inclined to drink more, faster, in their rooms before going out for the night.

“They might take five shots in a row before they leave,” she said.

Terhune said the purpose of the policy change isn’t to enable the college to play the role of Big Brother, but to keep the students safe. “We’re not going to be looking around corners,” he said.