Impact of ongoing efforts to reduce risky drinking unclear
Washington University continues to take tentative steps to improve communication with students about the risks of alcohol abuse, but school officials remain unsure whether their efforts are yielding noteworthy progress.
In 2011, the University paid $20,000 to join the National College Health Improvement Program (NCHIP), which brings together 32 institutions from around the country to discuss how to educate students about high-risk drinking, including the common alcohol-related issues they face and possible solutions to these issues.
This summer, the Boston Globe published an article noting that Dartmouth College, one of NCHIP’s partners, saw its number of students hospitalized with blood-alcohol concentrations higher than 0.25 drop from 80 to 31 within just two years.
But because Washington University is measuring the effectiveness of the NCHIP program through a survey it distributes once every several years, progress isn’t easy to track. The University had students take the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment last semester, but the most recent data publicly available is from 2007.
“All of these interventions have potential for great effect over time, but that will only be measurable over an extended period,” Alan Glass, director of the Habif Health & Wellness Center, told Student Life.
Tentative results aside, the NCHIP program led to the current W.I.L.D. alcohol policy, remodeled alcohol violation counseling by the Office of Residential Life and student focus groups on the issue, according to Glass.
According to Michael Hayes, executive director of Campus Life, the purpose of partnering with other universities is to find new ideas to take a more comprehensive approach to understanding the factors involved in high-risk drinking.
Hayes added that the University also enlists students to help with education efforts in an attempt to make a more lasting impact among undergraduates.
“The students were able to tell us, ‘Yeah, that won’t work, and this will work.’ It needs to be told from the student perspective,” Hayes said.
Some students said that while alcohol abuse may continue to be a problem, the University has done a good job helping students deal with issues like alcohol-related illness and how to get home safely after a night of drinking.
“I feel like unhealthy drinking exists on nearly every college campus in some way or another,” freshman Isaiah Sciford said. “Between [the Emergency Support Team], Campus2Home and the friendliness of other students, I feel like we’re in a safe environment for when we do make poor decisions.”
“The school’s drinking policy is much more focused on safety than on prohibition, and I think that encourages a healthier environment than at other schools,” sophomore Katherine Branche said.
Although Hayes feels that the University has done a good job creating good preventative health and safety measures, he conceded that it still has a ways to go in terms of dealing with alcohol-related issues.
In addition to services to help students who have already abused alcohol, there are also less-publicized efforts in place to proactively prevent alcohol-related problems. Before any student group event at which alcohol will be served, group members must attend a training session led by the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership, where they are given strict guidelines to which they must adhere at the event.
The Washington University Police Department is also involved in creating measures to keep students safe and construct safety nets in case a student does become ill, Don Strom, WUPD chief, said.
Strom admitted that change is happening slowly on campus but that alcohol abuse is a problem that administrators alone cannot solve.
“This a community problem. We all have to be partners,” Strom said. “The University continues to look for alternatives, and this is where the young people in our community need to become engaged.”
While the University is rolling out its policy changes, students in the Wash. U. community can take certain steps to ensure their safety and that of their friends, senior Jes Minor, EST’s field director, said.
Minor suggested that students stay mindful of how much they’re drinking in a given period of time, especially when taking shots. The body cannot metabolize alcohol fast enough, Minor explained, making it very easy to drink to the point of illness.
Minor added that bystander intervention is another way that students can keep themselves safe.
“The more that you have your friends on your side, the more you’re able to prevent people from making poor decisions and having bad things happen,” Minor said.