Students and staff work to curb alcohol abuse

Amy Sandquist

Representatives from Lawrence’s campus life and counseling services staff gathered in the Kraemer Room of the Warch Campus Center Wednesday, Sept. 22, to attend a webinar – an internet meeting that links participants from different locations – about methods for responding to student alcohol abuse.
The meeting was organized around a presentation via conference phone and PowerPoint delivered by Jason Laker, the vice president of student affairs at San José State University.
While Laker’s presentation addressed the obvious health risks involved in alcohol abuse on college campuses, he focused on the importance of understanding individual campus’s drinking cultures, educating students about the effects of heavy drinking and organizing engaging activities unrelated to drinking or drugs.
Assistant Director of Counseling Services and Alcohol Education Coordinator Paul Valencic explained that Lawrence’s participation in the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment in the spring of 2009 illuminated some concerns about Lawrence’s drinking culture.
Some may assume that Lawrence’s small size lends to a more subdued party environment than those of larger state schools, but the ACHA-NCHA assessment shows that assumption to be incorrect.
“Our women binge drink at a little lower rate than the average [college student], but our men are binge drinking above average, at about seven or eight percent higher than average. If [Lawrence is] different [from state schools], it’s not a good difference,” Valencic noted.
President of Wellness Committee Kelsey Cavanagh-Strong noted, “I would say that, in my opinion, there actually is a pretty big drinking scene [at Lawrence] on the weekends. I do believe there are people that know how to drink responsibly, but I also think there are people who may believe they’re drinking responsibly but aren’t really.”
Laker’s presentation explored different methods of educating students about alcohol abuse, a difficult feat that Lawrence has struggled with in the past. Cavanagh-Strong, the only student present at the webinar, stated, “As a whole.[our campus has] continually struggled to successfully implement alcohol programming. “
The programming has been most successful when combined within a holistic health initiative. “We try to reach out in ways that are unconventional,” explained Valencic. “I think [Wellness Committee] is one of those approaches.”
In his talk, Laker emphasized his opinion that enforcing alcohol laws and regulations by punishing students is not the most effective way to initiate a dialogue about alcohol use. “I want to encourage enforcement [of national and collegiate laws and guidelines] to be the third thing, behind education and engagement, that [colleges] focus on, rather than the first,” Laker said.
Valencic agrees. Because Lawrence promotes a close-knit campus environment, its staff believes that it is more constructive to work with students who seek medical attention for alcohol consumption, rather than to punish them.
“As a developmental college, we’re not here to punish. We want to make this a teaching experience as much as possible. We find that [a punishment-oriented approach] is not within the mission of our college,” Valencic clarified.
Like other years, the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year has meant that multiple students at Lawrence have required medical attention due to excessive drinking.
Valencic explained that student hospitalizations at the beginning of fall term are not abnormal. “There tend to be more [hospitalizations] first term consistently every year,” he explained. “There are more people who don’t necessarily have the information and the education they need [about drinking] earlier on in the year.”
“I think alcohol is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed more,” said Cavanagh-Strong of Lawrence’s campus. In order to do so, she noted, “We have to have people wanting to learn about it and actually do things about it.