One State's Answer
Disturbed by the serious and continuing problem of alcohol abuse on campuses in the state and in the nation, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley in March 1998 asked members of the state’s Task Force on Drinking by College Students to study the problem of binge drinking and the violation of alcohol laws on the Commonwealth’s campuses. After four months of meetings, research, a presidents’ forum, and public hearings across the state, the Task Force recommended in July 1998 a long list of measures for university officials, law enforcement agencies, business and community leaders, parents and students.
The Task Force, organized by former Attorney General Richard Cullen in November 1997 in response to the deaths, directly related to alcohol, of five Virginia college students in the fall of 1997, is the first such statewide group to take the lead in presenting solutions to collegiate alcohol misuse. The 43 members included college presidents and trustees, students, and law enforcement officials.
“… Today peer educators face a significant challenge…
In the newspapers, news reports, and television shows, the public gets the image that America’s college students are all drunks, drug abusers, and irresponsible “kids.” But this is simply not true; I only have to look at my friends on campus and in BACCHUS and GAMMA nationwide. Each of them makes a good conscious choice to become and remain active positive role models on their campuses and lead healthy and responsible lives. The general public does not know just how many college students are offended by the wild stories portrayed in the media …
So rather than taking on the media…, what I am saying goes out to college administrators, health educators, advisors and professors. …
examine the environment that you create or contribute to by your actions in class or on your campus. We need to hold students in an academic environment to a higher standard. …
Hopefully, together we can create an environment that fosters learning, personal growth and development, and the attainment of life skills. College is not intended to be an “insulated bubble” free of community standards. It should be the kind of place where we learn about ourselves and how we might contribute our knowledge and talents to the future.…”
The Peer Educator, July 1998
BACCHUS and GAMMA
“The goal of the Task Force is not top-down mandates from Richmond,” Earley told the members and Virginians, “nor is it to prosecute and persecute students. Instead, I challenged you to lead the discussion that will change the very culture of binge drinking on campus. This problem does not call for band-aid solutions or feel-good measures; it requires substantive change throughout the entire system of higher education.”
Virginia’s strategy, dubbed FREE for its four-pronged initiative, asks each state college and university to develop a Foundational plan to reduce binge and illegal drinking; Rebuild the campus culture with emphasis on personal responsibility, scholarship and citizenship; Educate students about health and safety hazards of alcohol and drugs and state and university laws and penalties for violations; and Enforce vigorously the state’s alcohol and drug laws on and off campus and the institution’s own policies.
It is intended to “free students from the campus culture and peer pressure that promotes binge drinking; free parents from worrying about the safety of their sons and daughters; free communities from the negative impact of binge drinking and drunk driving; and free colleges and universities to promote academic achievement and personal responsibility.”
The 65-plus recommendations include these:
- Require each college and university to develop its own plan to curb binge drinking on its campus, including a comprehensive intervention program.
- Develop an aggressive anti-binge drinking campaign on college campuses and provide more campus programs and social events without alcohol.
- Set tougher penalties for establishments that sell alcohol to underage and intoxicated customers, pass stronger drunk-driving laws, and vigorously enforce state alcohol laws.
- Set mandatory penalties for students who violate campus alcohol policies, including suspension or expulsion for repeat offenders.
- Increase and promote alcohol-free student housing.
- Encourage strong student leadership to help fight alcohol abuse
- Defer fraternity and sorority rush to the spring semester, and require local chapters to comply with the alcohol policies of their national organizations.
- Discourage alcoholic beverage-related sponsorship of on-campus activities and the advertisement and promotion of alcoholic beverages on campus.
- Notify parents when dependent students violate campus alcohol policies, amend the federal privacy law (FERPA) to expand parental notification, and inform parents that student privacy waivers exist.
Establish a nonprofit parents group to encourage parental involvement in fighting alcohol abuse.
“These are recommendations; they are not rules,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley emphasized when he announced the recommendations. “They must be implemented voluntarily. I hope they will be. “We cannot be in every Board of Visitors meeting. We cannot come to every fraternity gathering. We will not be there looking over the shoulder of every bartender or sales clerk in Virginia. And we cannot force anyone to do anything. If these recommendations are not implemented and enforced vigorously by the local university community, they are not worth the paper they are written on. They are useless and impotent. If they are implemented and enforced, they provide a powerful blueprint for addressing one of the most complex problems in higher education and society at large. Herein lies the wisdom of the people of Virginia.”
“But there are no silver bullet solutions; binge drinking has many complex components.… To successfully dismantle the culture of binge drinking, we must teach all students personal responsibility, common sense and reasonable restraint. … higher learning not only develops the mind and provides the tools for economic success, it also develops character and prepares young people to interact in the larger society and become good citizens.”
Attorney General, State of Virginia In thanking members of the Task Force on Drinking by College Students, July 1998