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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Strategies Related to Drinking Unveiled

This fall the Dean of Students and Residential Life Offices are partnering to implement a new program to help educate students about binge drinking. Indeed, students will be offered an incentive to not drink too much. Additionally, an alcohol-optional Saturday night program series is being initiated to give students a weekend option other than off-campus parties. Finally, the members of Chi Delta Tau, the Dean of Students Office, and Yellow Cab are partnering to put a Tiger Taxi ride in place to reduce drinking and driving.

The most radical of these strategies is the B-Low Optimal breathalyzer program. All first year students are supposed to attend the Trinity-grown Optimal Buzz program started by Dr. Richard Reams in Counseling Services. This unique program teaches students who drink to respect their sweet-spot, or the point when diminishing returns set in (black-outs, alcohol poisoning, drunk dialing your roommate's cute sister). As a pilot program, the staff will allow Calvert Hall residents who are identified for alcohol violations, to voluntarily submit to breathalyzer readings. If students are within or below the Optimal Buzz range they will get a consequence-free warning (up to three). There are many more details, but the idea should be evident: Not binge-drinking? You may be eligible for a break on the penalty.

This, and the other initiatives listed below, mesh with the campus alcohol philosophy: we acknowledge that students will drink, we promote student health and safety, and we enforce policies that the law obliges. If the program is assessed and received favorably, it will be expanded. If not, we will be selling an Alcomate Premium Alcoscan AL 7000 on Craig's List.The

There is no shortage of events on campus, including on weekends. The University offers a spate of athletic events, musical and theatrical performances, and other cultural or social activities on most weekends.  San Antonio offers a wide array of events and places to go as well. Rarely do students report having nothing to do. However, some students report that off-campus parties seem to be the primary social outlets for those wanting to be with groups of other students.

Interestingly, according to a fall 2012 National Collegiate Health Assessment from the American College Health Association and an internal Health and Wellness survey, about one quarter to one third of students, including our own are doing the heavy drinking. This means 65-75% of our students don't drink heavily. Many don't drink at all. This is pretty typical of traditional college students. (As an aside, most non-drinkers perceive that there are more heavy drinkers than there are, mostly because they are loud. Most drinkers think everyone drinks because among their peers, they do.)

Off campus private parties are generally where unencumbered binge-drinking happens most. (Fall 2013 statistics show over 75% of drinking is happening off campus.) As a result, the Association of Student Representatives is funding a one semester pilot program to offer coffeehouse style programming in the Skyline Room every Saturday this fall to provide a social alternative.

The Student Programming Board is already scheduling musical acts, comedians, date nights and more. What's more, the events are scheduled as late night events - starting at 9 or 10pm - to go head-to-head with late night off campus parties. The usual heavier drinkers will still have their social outlets, but the ones looking for on campus avenues for fun socializing will at least have such opportunities. The program isn't exclusively for non-drinkers and non-partiers. Because the Skyline Room has a liquor license, of-age students will be able to purchase beer and wine. Coffee drinks will be available for those underage. When there are major events on campus on Saturdays (football games, for example), Skyline events will commence following those events.

Given the number of students who drink off campus, it is critical to do whatever it takes to assist those who have been drinking to not get behind the wheel. As we have learned, the least drunk driver doesn't make for a sober driver. In the ACHA survey, administered by Dr. Reams, over half of our students who drink off campus always have a designated driver. Another third usually do. Stunningly, 10% only sometimes or rarely use a designated driver. Students are sometimes fearless about consequences. (Of the 60% of students having sex, nearly 20% aren't using condoms.)

Designated drivers are free, accessible, and effective. But since they are not always used, an alternative is calling a cab. In fact, Trinity had a voucher program with Yellow Cab, but it was clunky to administer. The Yellow Cab representatives approached the University last year with a debit card program idea that looks like it can be effective. The men of Chi Delta Tau have agreed to promote and administer this program to other student groups and individual students this fall. That fraternity will yield far more influence with students than administrators might. The advantage for students is that they don't have to choose between What-a-Burger money and a cab ride.

In an a climate where binge drinking on college campuses runs rampant, the B-Low Optimal program, Skyline Saturdays, and Tiger Taxi program are all new and exciting approaches toward encouraging a safer and more enjoyable experience for Trinity students.

Editors Note: Thanks to Dr. Richard Reams, Associate Director of Counseling Services, for his research and his efforts to promote safer alcohol-use. Review of survey summaries are available upon request.

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