SALT LAKE CITY — With the efforts many colleges across the nation are making toward improving responsible alcohol use on campuses, they are seeing a decrease in high-risk drinking, alcohol-related ambulance calls and in alcohol violations among students.
Despite being in the Princeton Review's top five party schools in the nation, Ohio University (No. 1), the University of Georgia (No. 2), the University of Iowa (No. 4) and the University of California Santa Barbara (No. 5) are vigorously striving toward educating students about the risks of alcohol use and implementing programs and campaigns that will help keep students safe, said the deans of students at each school.
"It's not really our goal to combat the party school status," said Ryan Lombardi, dean of students at Ohio University. "Our concern is student behavior. Drinking among college and high school students is at epidemic levels."
Reports by the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force on College Drinking said in 2009 that 1,825 college students between 18 and 24 years old died from alcohol-related injuries, 599,000 students were unintentionally injured when under the influence of alcohol, 696,000 students were assaulted by another student who had been drinking, and 97,000 students were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
But Lombardi said in the four years he has been at Ohio, the number of students involved in high-risk drinking has dropped 8 percent, and there has been a 49 percent decrease in alcohol violations.
At the University of Iowa, there has been a 33 percent decrease in the number of ambulance calls for alcohol overdose, said David Grady, the dean of students.
Many of Ohio's and Iowa's alcohol policies and awareness programs have contributed to this decline, the deans said.
At Ohio, Stop at the Buzz is a program on campus that encourages students not to participate in high-risk drinking and reminds them that they shouldn't drink themselves to the point of intoxication.
The student group POWER (Promoting Ohio University Wellness, Education and Responsibility) does presentations educating other students about alcohol, drugs and other health-related issues.
Ohio and Iowa also put money into weekend programming, hosting parties and events that have become alternatives for students to the bar and party scenes.
Incoming freshmen at each of these universities are required to participate in either online or in-person education about responsible behaviors and the risks associated with alcohol and drug use.
"Traditionally students and young adults think of college as places where anything goes. Kids think they can do whatever they want, but they push their limits well beyond where they should," Lombardi said. "They are shocked by how strict the rules are here."
Ohio and the other universities in the Princeton Review's top-five rankings have strict alcohol policies and punishments when students violate them. They don't allowing alcohol on campus or in common areas of residence halls or fraternity houses, but students 21 years old can drink in the privacy of their rooms. However, high-risk drinking and intoxication are not allowed.
At Ohio, Georgia and the University of California Santa Barbara, punishments vary for first-offending violators of the policies, but discipline can include community service, notification of parents, large fines, health assessments and participation in education about alcohol awareness, which is a five-week program at UC Santa Barbara, said Debbie Fleming, senior associate dean of students.
Students at the University of Georgia who violate policies a third time are suspended, while it only takes a second violation at Ohio for a student to be suspended.
In general, the students at these universities are supportive of the alcohol policies, the programs and campaigns.
Elliot Higgins, president of the student government at the University of Iowa, has seen that manifested by student participation in programs like the Red Watch Band training, which teaches students about bystander intervention and how to recognize the signs of when a friend might be in danger; a joint committee of students and members of the community that encourages responsible use of alcohol by building relationships between the community members and students; and a year-old city liquor ordinance that doesn't allow people under 21 to be in bars after 10 p.m.
"I think that the majority of students realize that our image as a party school really reflects negatively on the school," Higgins said. "Responsible alcohol consumption is fine. The problem is when students binge drink, and when they do there is a lot more danger for students to get hurt or hurt others."
The danger binge drinking and intoxication pose to students' health is motivation enough for Lombardi to continue raising awareness and promoting alcohol-use programs. He said the students probably feel like "we're preaching to them," but being responsible for reporting a student's death to a parent is awful, and if the policies and programs save even one life, it is worth the effort.
Health risks aren't the only reasons schools are looking to help students increase alcohol use awareness, though, because it affects their lives elsewhere, too.
"I see firsthand the impact that alcohol and substance abuse has on a student's academic career and has on their futures," Grady said.
He doesn't believe the University of Iowa deserves a No. 4 ranking — none of the deans believe their school deserves their respective rankings. But despite the disconnect between the Princeton Review survey and the fact that numbers show students are partying less and drinking less, Grady knows that fighting unsafe alcohol use is an issue that campuses across the country face, and it's an ongoing battle that needs to be dealt with.
And it's not just college campuses that are fighting this problem. The National College Health Improvement Project, a program whose mission is to improve student health on campuses, started the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking in April 2011, partnering with 32 universities across the country, including Ohio, Stanford, Yale and Boston, to brainstorm new ways to deal with the problem of binge drinking on college campuses.
"This unprecedented initiative is using comprehensive evaluation and measurement techniques to identify and implement the most effective ways to tackle a persistent problem that affects nearly 4 out of 10 students and help lessen the harm it causes," NCHIP wrote on its website.
The NCHIP teams will spend a year and a half working with experts from The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice to find public health solutions and quality improvement methods that will successfully combat the binge drinking problem, NCHIP wrote.
"(It) is a learning collaborative to try new things and share new things," Lombardi said. "I know it's better than not doing anything. It's continuing to keep the issue in front of us. Most people like us working at colleges are working feverishly (for this)."
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