April 9, 2012

Students Mull Methods to Curb Alcohol Abuse

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Continuing an effort to combat high-risk drinking, four Cornell students attended a conference at Dartmouth College this weekend in which groups from five Ivy League universities discussed the different practices they employ to mitigate dangerous behaviors.

The conference, dubbed the second annual Ivy Student Summit for Alcohol Harm Reduction, spawned from last year’s Dartmouth Collaborative, an initiative organized by the National College Health Improvement Project. As part of NCIP, representatives from 32 colleges across the country met to discuss harm reduction as it relates to alcohol consumption, according to Melanie Herman ’12, one member of Cornell’s group.

Herman said that, unlike the first conference, this summit focused solely on the input from Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia in order to address the similar problems that these institutions have faced in recent years.

“It is interesting to examine the social culture of different schools. It places a lot of what we are doing in context with the larger college drinking problem,” said at-large Student Assembly Rep. John Mueller ’13, another member of the group that attended the conference. “We are building connections with students who are trying to tackle the same issues we have here, each with our different nuances.”

While students at the event primarily brainstormed ideas for reducing high-risk drinking rather than making tangible proposals, the five schools dissected which plans have worked best and worst at each school, according to Herman. It also gives Cornell an opportunity to tailor policies to our own culture and social environment, she said.

“In terms of Cornell versus Dartmouth, for example, we are much less Greek-dominated than they are,” Herman said. “We have more opportunities for students to find their niche, rather than something that involves everyone drinking all of the time.”

Herman said unlike Dartmouth, Cornell has a specific college town where student socializing is often concentrated.

“Collegetown certainly promotes drinking, but it is very public,” she said. “If there is a potential problem, it can be easily spotted.”

No one solution fits every college, according to Mueller. Rather, panel members from each university shared anecdotal evidence that served as examples to consider for the future.

Cornell liaisons said that several initiatives from other schools stood out to them as examples they might emulate in the future, Mueller said.

According to Herman, Harvard has a successful program called Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors, in which the university provides funding for food, supplies and non-alcoholic drinks for parties. She said she believes that if managed properly, this program could be expanded to Cornell’s much larger student body.

Mueller also praised Dartmouth’s reported trust in the safety and security of its police force. At every registered social event, Dartmouth students are required to have at least two walkthroughs per night, in which Intrafraternity Council member ensure the event is not in violation of any university policies.

Mueller also cited Dartmouth’s “Green Team” initiative, in which student volunteers stay at parties to identify and help individuals that appear to need assistance.

Cornell is attempting to launch an analogous program, called “Cayuga Watchers,” which was proposed to the Student Assembly last September. Though Cornell is still trying to iron out the final details of the proposal, Mueller said the administration is supportive of the idea. He said he is already optimistic at students’ reactions to the suggestion.

“People are starting to buy into the ‘bystander intervention’ idea,” Mueller said.

He said this enthusiasm is crucial to the program’s success.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as handing another student a bottle of water,” he said. “The administration handles enforcement, and Gannett handles most education. But culture change has to come from the students. Otherwise it will be written off immediately.”

Herman also said that in addition to mirroring successful programs implemented at other universities, Cornell should learn from the mistakes made by other schools.

“Harvard tried to ban kegs at parties, but it didn’t work,” Herman said. “With open parties, students engage in more ‘safer’ ways to drink — in other words, they consume more beer than hard alcohol. When kegs were banned, the university found that students were drinking a lot more hard alcohol and the number of dangerous drinking incidents increased. At Cornell, we have a lot to work on to make sure the lack of open parties is not to the detriment [of] our population.”

Herman, who has been an resident advisor at Cornell for three years, commended the summit for placing a further emphasis on the necessity to target not only frat parties, but also residential drinking.

“As an R.A., you watch people come in blackout drunk and you see the need for intervention,” she said. “Most freshmen don’t know their limits and can get really hurt. Focusing on new students getting acclimated to dorm life is one of the most critical times to target high risk drinking incidents.”

Mueller echoed the need to target change from a variety of angles.

“One of the barriers Cornell has faced in the medical amnesty program is that people are so worried about the costs,” he said, noting that such incidents might cost more than $1,000 after a night of ambulance and emergency room fees.

Mueller said Dartmouth has an infirmary on campus –– in which students with alcohol poisoning can be treated and remain overnight –– to deter some of these charges. He said this is a program he hopes Cornell will soon adopt.

“You can do a lot of small interventions and changes, but we need to be committed at all levels to making larger system changes if we want to see any real progress,” he said.

Original Author: Harrison Okin