for release Friday September 02, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Alcohol on Campus: New Solutions
One family looked forward to celebrating their son’s 21st birthday with him even though he was away at college. They made plans to visit and take him out to dinner, and later in the evening he would have a separate party with his friends. About four in the afternoon, their son called by cell phone saying he was sick and had been vomiting all day. He didn’t think he could go out to supper.
If you are the parent of a college kid who has passed 21 you can probably guess what happened. His friends had actually taken him out to a bar at the stroke of midnight that morning (when he was officially 21) and he had gotten very drunk on a bad combination of drinks. His hangover lasted all day. His mother was thankful he had enough guts to call them and let them know his plight before they arrived. This small-framed guy was actually in danger of needing an I.V. to rehydrate himself by the time his vomiting was arrested. He spent the rest of his birthday thoroughly embarrassed and resting in his room, while his friends celebrated his birthday without him.
And he and his parents were very lucky. Too many kids, guys and girls, die on their 21st birthday or other special occasions as the result of alcohol—accidents after prom or graduation. In a column two years ago, I shared the tragic story of one young man, Brad, and the efforts his parents have made to stop stupid birthday customs like drinking 21 shots (see http://www.brad21.org/). The organization they founded supplies birthday cards to some 55 participating universities to send to students on their 21st birthdays urging them that if they drink, to drink responsibly.
Increasingly, kids decide on what college to go to not on the basis of academic record, friends, or fields of study available. Kids often want to go to schools that have been listed as a great party school, either formally, by one of many websites or magazines that list “best party” schools, or through informal buzz. And we’re not talking about a couple of beers at a frat or sorority party. A party reputation, according to the kids, implies there will be plenty of very good looking girls who get drunk enough that they are eager to have sex with a different guy every night of the weekend.
In one thread on a website talking about good party schools, a student notes, “(college name deleted) is also known as the capital for STDs.” A second student’s note: (college name also deleted) is, and always will be known as “STDU.” Finally, one writer states the obvious: “Every school has parties. Every school has STDs.”
So sex and partying go together. That is just one reason parents, communities and school administrators have to stop winking at the college party scene.
Alcohol contributes to the deaths of 1,400 college students (U.S.) every year, according to a Harvard study published in the March 2005 American Journal of Public Health.
Mark Harder, a writer for The Daytona Beach News-Journal (Feb. 23, 2005) quotes Toben Nelson, one of the study’s authors, saying, “If more states and communities take relatively straightforward actions, such as enacting laws that discourage high-volume [alcohol] sales, they could see fewer drinking problems on college campuses and in their broader populations, as well.”
Binge drinking is the order of the day at parties (consuming 4 to 5 drinks consecutively, without much pause or eating). “Fewer college students binge in states where laws discourage excessive consumption, the study shows,” Harder writes. Dr. Robert Brewer, alcohol team leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Fla. says, “The states with the lowest binge drinking rates had more stringent alcohol control policies.”
Cities can enact policies making liquor stores register people who purchase kegs, restrict happy hour and alcohol advertising, demand higher taxes on alcohol, and limit the number of businesses that can sell alcohol.
Many people throw up their hands and think nothing can be done about the college drinking scene. But the University of Florida (Gainesville) has actually created a no re-entry policy at their stadium during football games to cut down on people going out at half time and drinking. Local businesses were asked to donate free movies and ice cream to students on their 21st birthday, to discourage the kind of birthday celebrations in my opening illustration. An article in University Business, “The Wasted Years” (August 2005) details ideas of courageous university presidents who have taken a proactive (and unpopular) role in changing the culture of alcohol on campus. For more go to http://www.universitybusiness.com/page.cfm?p=549
I refuse to believe that nothing can be done to change the culture of college drinking. Sure college kids have been drinking to excess since the very first university party, I’m sure, but parents, school administrators, and local cities must work together to discourage the binge kind of partying that has taken over in the last 10-20 years.
What do you think? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or post your comment at www.thirdway.com/aw/conversation.asp (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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