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Monday, September 8, 2008

Woe is We

The year has barely begun, yet I am already somewhat disheartened that an off-campus party attracted new students on move-in day (can't we give them 24 hours to settle in?). I am chagrined that Student Conduct Board is already two weeks behind because of early-year alcohol incidents. I am worn down by the rhetoric of a few, who passionately fight for their rights to drink. I begin this week facing an alumna complaint about drunk and boorish behavior from our students at the football game on Friday. But I have been here before.

In the sea of all all of this there is one bright light. A first year student named Natalie approached me about starting a Gordie alcohol awareness peer group chapter on campus to battle, at the student level, the dangerous consequences of alcohol and hazing. Manna from heaven...

The only truth I can really can state unequivocally is that alcohol and the behavior that comes with it takes up far too much time and energy. It seems to be the one topic with no answer and the one consistent topic that pits administrators versus students.

So, here are my thoughts and feelings on alcohol today. Some of these are in direct conflict with others:

1. Whether the drinking age is 16, 21, or 18, the American culture is one that holds up binge drinking as a rite of passage, especially during the college years, but even well beyond. If the drinking age were 18 it would be the early 1980's all over again. The European model of drinking at all ages wouldn't work here because our culture glorifies alcohol and partying.
2. Students will get drunk and intoxicated and sometimes that is fun. Prohibition doesn't work and isn't educational. Modeling responsible drinking and communicating to students that first and foremost, their health and safety is the most important issue, is the University's approach.
3. Around 1,700 college students die each year in alcohol-related accidents. While I feel like saying "go ahead and drink, see if I care..." that stat is pretty haunting. I do care.
4. Only a third of students do most of the drinking. The other two-thirds often have to live with the consequences.
5. Why is alcohol so important to people anyway? (Rhetorical question.)
6. Students underestimate the moral liability that administrators feel about this issue. We are often criticized for not wanting to be sued. If we are sued, it hurts EVERYONE from our University community. The endowment doesn't belong to the administration. What administrators fear most is meeting with family members of a student who has died senselessly because of alcohol.
7. Universities that receive federal funds have to have an alcohol policy and show they enforce it in order to receive funds. Schools that have alcohol policies and don't enforce them are in for trouble.
9. Trinity's alcohol policy is well-reasoned, thoughtful, and pretty liberal. This is a national issue, not just Trinity's.
10. It would be nice if students could sit in their dorm rooms and have a beer or glass of wine while enjoying a DVD from Netflix.
11. The five strategies that have been shown to work in approaching alcohol problems are offering alternatives, showing students that not everyone is drinking, restricting alcohol promotions, limiting availablity, and increasing enforcement of policies.
12. The Trinity Alcohol Cooalition is open to anyone. E-mail to join.


ELK said...

well written ~ sobering(I couldn't help that)facts for sure. The "it could never happen to me" mentality is a big factor with many of these issues.

David your 2004 article was a jolt of real life that many of us have experienced either first hand in our families or with friends. I do not have an answer but I appreciate your efforts.

NatureMom said...

Very well written response to an issue that has been around forever and will probably never be solved. The drinking age was 18 when I went to college, and there was just as much binge drinking. The only difference was that more of it stayed on campus (a plus...less drunk driving), we didn't have to hide it, and more students, who otherwise wouldn't have disobeyed the law, were able to join in the binges. There are no good answers because, as you say, our culture glorifies binge drinking. For some reason, drinking responsibly doesn't seem to be an option.

P.S. I love and agree with your idea of "heaven"!