January 30, 2012

Cornell Plans to Reduce Freshman Drinking

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The University announced at a conference in January that it aims to achieve a 25-percent reduction in the rate of binge drinking. According to a new report, 61 percent of first-year students involved in the Greek system engage in high-risk drinking.

University administrators and student leaders traveled to Austin, Texas, to present this goal and to discuss harm-reduction initiatives with representatives from 32 colleges across the country.

The conference was the second event organized by the National College Health Improvement Project, or the “Dartmouth Collaborative” — an initiative spearheaded by Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim last summer to rein in alcohol abuse.

The 18-month project, which aims to devise a plan to curb excessive drinking, urges schools to work with scientists from Dartmouth’s Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, as well as other universities, to tackle what Kim has said was “the most difficult problem I’ve taken on yet,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to data Cornell presented at the meeting, 61 percent of first-year students involved in the Greek system at Cornell binge drink — defined by Gannett Health Services as consuming at least four drinks if a female or five drinks for males at one time. Additionally, in a November 2011 survey, 33 percent of undergraduates reported suffering memory loss, and 10 percent said they have physically injured themselves after drinking.

Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health initiatives in Gannett Health Services, said that compared to many other schools in the Dartmouth Collaborative, Cornell is focusing on reducing high-risk drinking at fraternities and sororities.

“Of all the campuses involved in the project, we have one of the largest Greek systems,” Marchell said. “Certainly, one of the key things [the University must do] in the Greek system is to strengthen student leadership within the self-governing system and provide student leaders with the data to show them the reality of what has been happening.”

Despite implementing the four-quarter system in August 2011, which barred freshmen from attending fraternity parties for the first half of the fall semester, the University saw “a considerable number of first-year students drinking in fraternities,” he said.

However, because there was no data available from previous semesters, Marchell said it was not possible to determine whether this represented an increase or a decrease in the percentage of freshmen drinking at fraternities.

Based on information from a November 2011 survey, 62 percent of first-year, high-risk drinkers reported consuming alcohol at fraternity houses.

“At a minimum, the [new] policies did not fully achieve their aim,” Marchell said.

However, University administrators said they valued the advice they received at the conference and were hopeful for future improvements.

“I think working together in this collaborative setting allows us to really deal with our unique problems in higher education … People are away from their families for the first time, going through a very demanding educational process and experimenting socially for the first time,” said Kathy Zoner, chief of the Cornell University Police Department. “Hearing different institutions in different states having problems that are similar to ours was very helpful.”

Marchell added that the University received feedback from the conference that was “very valuable.”

“What we learned at the meeting was that, in many ways, we are on the right track, but at the same time we have a long way to go,” Marchell said. “What was particularly useful was both the confirmation that there are many things we’re doing right and also new ideas that we can gleam from other campuses.”

Cornell officials answered Kim’s “call to arms” after recognizing signs of a dangerous culture of consumption, said John Mueller ’13, at-large representative of the Student Assembly.

“High-risk drinking is obviously a problem here. We may not all agree on what ‘safe drinking’ is, but we can all agree that we don’t want people to drink dangerously,” Mueller said. “We have a culture here where people say, ‘Come on, you can do one more shot.’ If we can change that so we are a little more responsible and a little less the invincible college student, maybe we can all be better off.”

Under the initiatives outlined by the University, administrators and student leaders will stress that fraternities will not be able to add alcohol purchases to their University bursar bills, incorporate screening for alcohol and drug dependency at Gannett and support late-night programming, including creating a late night, alcohol-free dance club on North Campus.

Adam Gitlin ’13, executive vice president of the S.A., said that the “Cayuga’s Watchers” initiative is also “on the docket to really move forward this semester.” Under the program — which was first introduced in September 2011 — students paid $10 an hour would be hired to monitor the safety and well-being of their peers at parties where hosts have requested their services.

“[The Texas conference] definitely renewed our commitment to furthering the Cayuga’s Watchers initiative,” Gitlin said.

Original Author: Akane Otani