Issues and Initiative
Collegiate Alcohol Abuse
Fall 1997. The beginning of a new school year, a new semester. Tuition is paid, books are bought, parents have unloaded the family car: the stereo and clothes, the computer and toiletries and reminders of home are in place. Classes are still interesting, athletes still heroes, labs and late nights at the library stimulating. A season, altogether, of vitality and discovery.
Then, two young men pledging fraternities, in opposite parts of the country, die of alcohol poisoning. A student in central Virginia, disoriented from pre-game, heavy drinking in a short time, falls down a flight of stairs and dies of head injuries. Another Virginia woman accidently rolls out an eighth-floor dormitory window. She does not survive.
Three more students die in automobile accidents. Virginia’s Attorney General presses forward with his Task Force on Drinking by College Students—the first such statewide effort in the nation—and challenges members to produce “common sense recommendations to change the culture of alcohol abuse.”
With the warm breath of spring, alcohol-fuelled riots erupt, on east and west coasts and in between. Crowds overturn cars, pelt police with rocks, bottles, and chunks of asphalt. Damage to property is in the hundreds of thousands, to people significant and disturbing. Students, under the influence, protest changes in alcohol policies, the attempts to protect and preserve them, and demand the “right to party.”
With dismaying regularity, news reports detail the excesses, and the deaths, of vibrant collegians, their promise and their talent compromised or extinguished. For university “caretakers”—from the president to the chief student affairs officer to the faculty member in whose classroom the young person just studied—alcohol abuse by their students prompts sadness, anger, sometimes defeat, and often frustration.
Some 83 percent of the students in the most recent, representative Core Alcohol and Drug Survey said they drank, and 43 percent reported some form of violence—arguments, threats, fights, thefts, ethnic and sexual harassment, or unwanted sexual encounters—related to alcohol.
How to best deal with the complex issues, responsibilities, and liabilities, how to be an instrument for change in the prevailing collegiate environment, is the challenge facing all university people. This report offers up-to-date guidelines for a Model Campus Alcohol Policy and recommendations for action based on the experience and wisdom of a diverse, broadly representative group of educators, trustees, and students. The Task Force hopes you will read them carefully and will find them highly useful in the implementation of policy and education on your campus.
For years, university educators have been grappling with collegiate alcohol abuse in a variety of ways. The dilemma—respecting the adult sensibilities and independence of young people while honoring the law and an institution’s “duty to care”—has become evermore difficult to solve. The demographics alone are daunting: Some 15 million students now attend more than 3,500 institutions. Nationally, raising the legal age for buying alcohol to 21 has meant the mingling on campuses of underage and legal-age students, with the preponderance, 70 percent, of legal age.
Abuse is begun now at very young ages, in high school and even in middle school, so that patterns are often well set before students arrive at college. Before their children leave secondary school, many parents are well aware of the concerns and activities of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Sadly, many have been in court or in counseling with their children. Worse, some have attended funeral services for their children or schoolmates.
The social culture of students, intertwined as it is with events that abuse alcohol, is obviously at odds with the academic culture of learning and growth. For those students who do not drink, or who do not drink to excess, that environment may be jeopardized in distracting and serious ways.
“In most colleges,” noted educator Nevitt Sanford wrote in 1969, “the students are either preached at or left to their own resources.… These institutions reflect and do much to perpetuate the drinking cultures of their larger communities. By remaining silent on alcohol abuse while discussing almost everything else, they take part in the general conspiracy of silence; and by making unenforceable rules and then winking at their violation, they perpetuate the hypocrisy that generally surrounds drinking in our society.” Despite numerous preventive education programs, more curtailment of alcohol in campus housing, and genuine concern and action by many educators, that hypocrisy continues today.
“It is imperative that we change the drinking culture that afflicts our campuses.… But to effect real change, it must be realized that student leadership is essential. It is incumbent upon the entire campus community to get our students involved in setting responsible drinking guidelines, enforcing them, and helping those students who violate them.”
Still, important initiatives are in motion. In the early 1970s, Dr. Morris Chafetz, first director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, set up the 50 Plus 12 Project. His staff visited a university or college in every state and 12 private and minority institutions to gather and disseminate information about alcohol use, attitudes and abuse. From that effort came the first real compendium on collegiate alcohol use, The Whole College Catalog About Drinking (K. Hewitt, 1976), and the knowledge that most colleges and universities were groping alone for answers and would welcome ideas and guidelines.
In 1976, Dr. Gerardo M. Gonzalez, then a graduate student at the University of Florida, and his mentor Dr. Thomas G. Goodale, then dean of students there, founded BACCHUS, Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students, to provide a network for peer educators and to promote awareness on alcohol abuse issues. More than ten years ago GAMMA, Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol, was started as an ongoing part of the network. The BACCHUS and GAMMA Peer Education Network, now active on more than 800 campuses in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Mexico and beyond, believes that “students can play a uniquely effective role, unmatched by professional educators, in encouraging their peers to consider, talk honestly about, and develop responsible habits, attitudes and lifestyles regarding alcohol and related issues.” Over the past 20 years, the network has proven to be the constant voice advocating student leadership and training on health and safety issues.
The Inter-Association Task Force, a major collaboration of higher-education associations, was initiated by Dr. Goodale, also a former president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), in 1983 to address the implication of the coming change in the drinking-age law to 21. The Task Force first held a national conference on campus alcohol policy in December 1985 and shortly thereafter published the first Model Campus Alcohol Policy and the conference proceedings. The Williamsburg symposium was the second national undertaking of the 20-member organization.
The IATF maintains a World Wide Web site (www.iatf.org) that offers guidelines for a Model Campus Alcohol Policy and for all marketing of alcohol on campus. The site provides information about how to participate in National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week and “Top Ten” lists of awareness week activities for each of nine groups. Members of Greek organizations, campus police, coaches and athletes, administrators in activities and recreational sports offices, and others can find numerous specific plans at the site. In addition, the site has links to many other resources for publications and funding.
“I didn’t want to stop partying. Everyone I hung out with on the weekends was drinking. You feel out of place when you’re not.”
Collegiate Alcohol Abuse: Recommendations and Guidelines