Like death and taxes, binge drinking on college campuses might appear to be inevitable – the product of large swaths of young people free for the first time from parental control.
But a group of experts gathered at Lehigh University recently argued that there are ways to reduce its prevalence in addition to preventing crimes such as sexual assault, that often involve alcohol.
The conference was a joint venture between and Security On Campus, an advocacy organization founded by Connie and Howard Clery after their daughter Jeanne was The Clerys lobbied state legislatures and Congress to pass more than 35 laws on campus safety, including the federal Jeanne Clery Act, which requires reporting of crimes and security policies.
John Smeaton, Lehigh’s vice provost of student affairs, spelled out part of the problem, saying of the students who end up in a hospital emergency room from alcohol abuse, most of them are using hard alcohol and most are freshman.
“The abuse of alcohol is the single biggest threat to our students’ safety,” Smeaton said. Lehigh has worked to change the partying culture on campus, including partnering with fraternities and sororities to get them to live up to the values their charters’ profess, he said.
Lehigh has cut down on the use of fake student identification by giving a list of students’ birthdays to about 15 local taverns, restaurants and state liquor stores so they can check them against students’ IDs. “Our data has shown that it has reduced identification fraud by about 50 percent,” Smeaton said.
Dan Reilly, director of safety, environment and education at University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said his campus saw a drop in students who reported binge drinking – defined as 5 drinks in a row – from 48 percent in 2004 to 27 percent in 2009.
Colleges have to look at their campus data about drinking and scrap programs that don’t work – including many that feature scare tactics, Reilly said. “There are a lot of well meaning charlatans out there and they want to come and suck up your dollars,” he said.
Schools also need to make sure students feel the sting of consequences for drinking violations – including being suspended for multiple incidents, Reilly said. At his university, 80 percent of those suspended return, having sobered up from a stint of working in the real world.
Drinking plays a big part in sexual assaults on campus, according to George Dowdall, a sociology professor at Saint Joseph’s University. One out of every 20 college women will have nonconsensual sex during a year and 70 percent of those were too intoxicated to give consent, he said.
Michelle Garcia, director of the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center, said in a study called “The Undetected Rapist” men who admitted forcing a woman to have sex described how they targeted victims, spiking their drinks and isolating them from their friends. “A lot of these offenders didn’t see anything wrong with their behavior,” Garcia said.
Paul Cell, chief of police at Montclair State University in New Jersey, urged conference attendees to use such information to teach students on how to prevent themselves or their friends from falling prey to those tactics. Cell said it’s also important to train those who sit on college judicial boards in how sexual assault victims and perpetrators typically behave.
In helping kick off the conference, Connie Clery talked about how much campus safety has advanced in 25 years, the efforts by some schools to change their culture and what is at stake if they don’t. “The best education in the world is useless if a student doesn’t survive with a healthy mind and body,” she said.
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