Alcohol Problems on College Campuses Escalate in 1997-1998: Time for Action

By Syre, Thomas R.; Pesa, Jacqueline A. et al. | College Student Journal, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Alcohol Problems on College Campuses Escalate in 1997-1998: Time for Action


Syre, Thomas R., Pesa, Jacqueline A., Cockley, David, College Student Journal


Alcohol abuse continued to be a serious problem during the 1997-1998 academic year for colleges and universities across the United States. Alcohol abuse led to deaths by overdose, arrests, violence, and campus riots. Few, if any, campuses were not affected by alcohol abuse and its ramifications. This paper provides a brief background to the alcohol abuse problem and a discussion of campus actions to alleviate the problem.

Background

Rarely did a month go by during the 1997-1998 academic year that The Chronicle of Higher Education did not publish one or more news story regarding student alcohol use and abuse on and off college and university campuses. Earlier in the year, the stories highlighted parties involving binge drinking and alcohol overdoses leading to deaths ("MIT Student Dies," 1997). At the end of the school year, campus riots, other forms of violence and numerous student arrests associated with bar closings and end-of-year celebrations were reported ("36 Arrested in riots," 1998). Essays and letters-to-the-editor on solutions to student alcohol use and abuse were also published (Altizer, 1998; Dowdall, 1998; Wechsler, 1998).

Research and reports quantifying the use and abuse of alcohol by college and university students is clear; students are drinking greater amounts in greater frequency (Wechsler, 1995; Presley, Meilman, Cashin and Lyerla, 1996). Proposed solutions to the problems vary. Some academics are suggesting the answers lie with stronger educational programs while others are suggesting campus-wide environment policy changes. Still others are suggesting strong campus and community law enforcement.

There is a significant amount of published materials in our campus libraries and on the world wide web regarding solutions to campus alcohol use and abuse. Examples include booklets for college presidents and governing boards (Upcroft & Welty, 1990), white papers on campus policy change (Eigen, 1991) and a variety of essays ranging, for example, from starting Alcohol Anonymous (AA) groups on campus (Syre, 1992) to implementing theory-based social marketing campaigns (Gonzalez & Clement, 1994). What is common to all programs is the call for collaboration of multiple sectors on and off campus (McAllister & Syre, 1998).

Solutions

Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health, in his article titled "Alcohol and the American College Campus" (1996), presents what is considered by many academics a thoughtful and responsive approach. To remedy the alcohol problem, he suggests a "twelve step" program that is outlined below (used with permission by Henry Wechsler). Additional steps suggested by these authors follow.

1. Assess the ways in which alcohol is affecting [your] college. Take a weekend tour of the campus and its outskirts beginning on a Thursday night. Observe the bars and clubs. Drop in on the campus health center. Observe fraternity and sorority houses late at night and early the next morning. Witness the "walk of shame," a phrase students use to describe the return of women from a night of heavy drinking and unplanned and often unprotected sex.

2. Admit that the college has a problem. Over the years many administrators have opted to keep a low profile on their prevention efforts. Some fear that a more visible university-wide stance might create the appearance that alcohol abuse is unusually severe at their school, ignoring the possibility that the college might instead be viewed as mounting a realistic, systematic response to a common problem that other colleges prefer to sweep under the rug.

3. A systematic effort begins with the university president. Commitment and leadership at the top are vital to assuring that consistent long-term prevention and intervention are reflected not just in speeches, but also in budgets. While officials on some campuses are making greater efforts, many seem to believe that this deep seated American problem can be changed by an able and dedicated staffer working part-time in a basement office at the campus health center with little or no authority.

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