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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, February 27, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have a story about college binge drinking and two editorials with ideas about how to solve this seemingly intractable problem.

Today’s Entering Freshmen Less Likely to Drink than Their Parents Were

So say the latest results of UCLA’s annual American Freshman Survey, which the university has conducted for almost 50 years. Of the incoming freshmen surveyed, just 33.5% said they drank beer, and 38.7% said they often drink wine or hard alcohol, down from 74.2% and 67.8% respectively in 1981. Similarly, the percentage of students who said they partied more than six hours a week fell from 34.5% in 1987 to 8.6% in 2014. Of course, these figures apply just to incoming college students, which is to say high school seniors. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out that these students are still likely to experiment with alcohol once they arrive one campus, except without the drinking experience older generations had at the start of their college careers.

Lower the Drinking Age to 18

Drinking experience for new college students is exactly what Elizabeth Glass Geltman proposes as a solution to college binge drinking and the many health problems associated with it. In this Huffington Post editorial, Geltman argues that one way to handle the problem is to lower the legal drinking age to 18, the legal drinking age when she herself attended Dartmouth (which recently banned hard alcohol on campus). She contends that lowering the legal drinking age would take college drinking out of the shadows and give parents and universities the chance to legally mentor students in safe, responsible alcohol consumption, pointing to university-sponsored events that served alcohol as examples of how she learned to party smart.

Make Binge Drinking Uncool

A very different solution is proposed in this editorial from USA Today, which takes successful anti-tobacco campaigns as the model for anti-binge drinking efforts. According to USA Today’s editorial board, the best way to combat binge drinking is to replicate the success of anti-tobacco campaigns, which have managed to make smoking cigarettes socially taboo, with 88% of 19-22 year olds saying their friends would disapprove of a smoking habit. To replicate the same results with binge drinking the editorial advocates tougher enforcement of anti-drinking laws and policies, including more DUI checkpoints around campus and cracking down on the sale of alcohol to minors and underage drinking off campus, a strategy that produced positive results in a study of 14 large California public universities. According to the editorial such measures could cut down on the amount of drinking and begin the process of a cultural shift that would make excessive drinking as uncool as a pack a day.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, November 14, 2014

Collective punishment for fraternities, the latest video by “It’s On Us,” and a timeline of sexual assault news from the last year.

Is Collective Punishment for Fraternities an Effective Prevention Technique?

In the wake of sexual assaults, fatal accidents, and other tragedies associated with fraternity parties, more and more colleges are turning to what some have deemed collective punishment: restricting or eliminating social events for all Greek organizations on campus, not just those associated with prior incidents. At Johns Hopkins all fraternity parties are banned until the end of the current semester, following a reported rape at Sigma Alpha Epsilon, despite the fact that neither the assailants nor the victim were associated with the fraternity. At Emory University all Greek social activities have been suspended following an assault at a fraternity house, and at MIT fraternity gatherings cannot exceed 49 people—the result of an accident in which a woman fell out of a fraternity window. Some commentators applaud such steps as common sense preventative measures while others have criticized such steps as unfair to fraternities and sororities that may be doing everything right and still be punished for a different group’s misdeeds or carelessness.

“It’s On Us” Promotes Bystander Intervention

Check out the latest spot from the White House’s “It’s On Us” anti-sexual assault campaign, which doubles-down on the theme of bystander intervention with a dramatization of a college-aged young man preventing sexual assault at a party. The video, narrated by Mad Men actor Jon Hamm, reflects current research suggesting bystander intervention may be a particularly promising prevention strategy. Other efforts will include partnerships with professional sports leagues, efforts to change the tone of victim-blaming conversations on the internet, and prizes for students who submit innovative strategies for bystander intervention.

A Timeline of Campus Sexual Assault

The past year has seen numerous developments in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses, including a White House campaign, new laws, and the latest count of 85 OCR investigations. This interactive infographic from Al-Jazeera America provides a timeline of the most relevant stories from the past year, serving as both useful summary and convenient resource.

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Why a Recent Court Ruling Forces Students to Rethink a Cover Charge
Posted by On Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jessica Manosa, a 20-year-old college student, decided to throw a party at her parents’ empty rental home. She bought some booze, cups, and cranberry juice, hired a DJ, and even convinced a friend to play bouncer at the entrance. She told him to charge a few bucks to anyone he didn’t recognize. But once inside, guests could dance to the music and drink freely from the assortment of beer, tequila, and jungle juice. The money collected was used to buy more alcohol for the party.

At some point in the evening Thomas Garcia showed up with his friends. He was already so drunk that he was slurring his words. But he paid the cover charge, and so the bouncer let him inside.

Garcia continued to drink, and soon he and his friends became “rowdy, aggressive, and obnoxious.” They made obscene and threatening comments to women at the party, and at one point, he or a friend dropped his pants.

About this time, Andrew Ennabe, a friend of Manosa, confronted Garcia and crew and kicked them out of the party. As the unruly guests were escorted to their car, one of them spit at Ennabe. This prompted Ennabe to chase the expectorator into the street, but as Garcia drove away he struck Ennabe, killing him.

Ennabe’s parents sued Jessica Manosa and her parents for wrongful death.  On February 24, 2014, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ennabe v. Manosa, concluding that Ennabe’s lawsuit against the Manosas should proceed to trial.

Under California law, generally social hosts who serve alcohol — even to a visibly intoxicated guest — are not liable for any resulting injuries or deaths caused by that person. The California Supreme Court explained this “immunity” applies because, “the consumption of alcohol, not the service of alcohol, is the proximate cause of any resulting injury.”

An exception to this rule, however, applies when someone “sells alcoholic beverages…to an obviously intoxicated minor.” Like Manosa herself, Garcia was under 21 and visibly drunk when he arrived.

But the question posed to the Court was this: did the small entrance fee Manosa charged mean she had “sold” Garcia the alcohol available inside?

Manosa protested that if the Court found her liable for Ennabe’s death, it would destroy the “social fabric of modern life.” The Court bluntly disagreed, “The assertion is exaggerated…in contrast to Manosa…ordinary social hosts do not use bouncers, allow uninvited strangers into their homes, or extract an entrance fee or cover charge from their guests. Nor does maintaining the social fabric of our society depend on protecting from civil liability those persons who would sell alcoholic beverages to minors who are already visibly intoxicated.”

The Court concluded that because Manosa charged an admission fee to her party, which the Court described as a “pop-up nightclub,” she sold alcohol to Garcia, and therefore could be liable for the death of Ennabe.

This ruling will have a profound effect on college parties where the hosts charge even a few bucks at the door. If they provide alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor at the party, they might find themselves liable for resulting injuries caused or suffered by that drunken guest.

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What Happens in College Doesn’t Always Stay in College
Posted by On Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Photograph courtesy of Amanda Berg

While a junior at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Amanda Berg noticed her female friends trying to match men drink for drink at parties. The trend bothered her and she was interested in exploring it further. So on Halloween, Berg decided to bring her camera to a party, and instead of knocking back drinks, she snapped photos.

The one-night experiment developed into a long-term project, and Berg continued to document her female friends while they partied. The fruit of this project, Berg’s photo-essay, “Keg Stand Queens: Binge Drinking among College-Aged Women,” explores “the complex relationship women undergraduates have with alcohol.”

Berg has plenty of images of binge drinking that we might expect from a photo-essay on college partying: students shotgunning beers, another chugging from a bottle of booze as she flips off the cheering crowd encircling her, and a young woman throwing up in the bathroom after partying too hard.

Other photos show the way drinking insinuates itself into the more mundane aspects of student life like one photograph of a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels on a bathroom counter, nestled among makeup, toothpaste, and combs.

In some ways, it is this last photo that is the most troubling. It suggests the way drinking becomes as routine as brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Indeed, harm-prevention programs usually educate students about the dangers of binge drinking, but rarely do they mention the dangers of daily drinking.

The Importance of Weekly Limits

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate drinking by both daily and weekly limits. For men, those limits are no more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks in a week. For women, it’s three drinks a day or seven drinks in a week. Daily limits protect people from acute risks such as alcohol poisoning. Weekly limits, meanwhile, protect them from long-term risks associated with alcohol such as certain types of cancer.

While alcohol programs generally educate students about daily limits and the dangers of binge drinking, most don’t mention weekly limits, even though keeping within both limits is important to students’ health.

In a recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Bettina Hoeppner and her colleagues found that 50% of college women and 45% of college men exceeded the NIAAA’s weekly limits at least once in their first year of college. The findings reveal a hole in some campuses harm-reduction efforts. By failing to educate students about weekly limits, Hoeppner argues, schools may be missing an important chance to have a long-term impact on students’ lives, especially young women.

In fact, recent data show that while young adults binge less after college graduation, they continue to drink just as frequently if not more. “[T]his raises the possibility,” Hoeppner speculates, “that the weekly limits become more relevant after leaving the college environment when weekly volume is less likely to be driven by heavy episodic drinking.”

Breaking the cycle

College students are still more likely to exceed daily than weekly limits. Indeed, according to Hoeppner’s data, almost no students exceeded weekly limits without also exceeding daily limits. Furthermore, the risks of binge drinking (blackouts, injuries, alcohol poisoning) are more acute than the potential long-term effects of regularly exceeding weekly limits. But, as Hoeppner’s research suggests, students also need to think about how their drinking fits into a bigger picture.

Just as colleges and universities educate students for professional life after graduation, schools need to consider how their harm-reduction strategies promote healthier lifestyles at college and beyond.
Telling students that alcohol abuse is just a “college” problem reinforces the perception that there aren’t long-term consequences to their behavior: “What happens at college stays at college.”

Failing to warn students about the long-term consequences of heavy drinking not only lets women down, it lets all students down. Education programs prepare students for life, not just college.

The final image in Berg’s photo-essay is a young girl practicing flip cup. She is surrounded by the detritus of a wedding celebration. Empty cups and containers are strewn across the table. In the distance, just out of focus, lies a discarded silver sandal. As Berg told Slate Magazine, “It seems like the end is the beginning, and it just goes on.”

Works Cited

Hoeppner, B.B., Paskausky, A.L., Jackson, K.M., Barnett, N.P. (2013) “Sex Differences in College Student Adherence to NIAAA Drinking Guidelines,” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37, 1779-1786.

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