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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trnasforming the JMU Alcohol Culture

JMU president Lynwood Rose sent an email on August 18, 2010 to new and returning students concerning"...some lingering issues surrounding negative alcohol-related events off campus..." last spring.  President Rose declared "...JMU will not be defined by a negative alcohol culture..." and presented a plan for "Transforming the JMU Alcohol Culture: Pursuing Excellence, Integrity and Mutual Respect."  (see  breezejmu.org/2010/08/19jmu-introduces-new-alcohol-enforcem.)  As I read the plan I was struck by this part of the plan: "Parent/Guardians will be sent a postcard one to two weeks prior to their student's 21st birthday, encouraging parents/guardians to talk with their son or daughter about having a healthy celebration"  If this is the kind of effort that is suggested to change the JMU negative alcohol culture then President Rose  does not understand the problem. This stared me to think how could I influence the JMU process of change. My first step was to send an Open Forum to the Daily News Record.  (see below or go to DNRonline Open Forum Sept 6, 2010)

OPEN FORUM :  JMU Independent Commission on Alcohol Culture
 I read the August 18, 2010 letter from JMU President Lynwood Rose to new and returning students concerning changing the alcohol culture at JMU.   At first glance it appears the JMU administration has finally stopped minimizing and denying its collusion in creating an alcohol party school environment. But as I read the details of the new “enforcement policies” it appears to me that JMU is presenting a public relations response with little actual change to impact the real problem of epidemic violation of Virginia law by JMU students.  President Rose’s letter gives a list of statistics from its own survey of JMU students. 
  • 44% reported that alcohol caused them to behave in ways they later regretted
  • 28% said their alcohol-induced behavior left them feeling guilty
  • 48% of the students reported that their alcohol consumption resulted in them not remembering a period of time
  • 70% of incoming freshman indicated that they had used alcohol in the past month

This data demonstrates that these adults (yes all JMU students are over 18 and are adults) will have to change their behavior in order to change the alcohol culture at JMU.  The issue for JUM is “How do you get adults to change their behavior?”
President Rose letter suggest several areas:
 Enforcement:   Have JMU police, Harrisonburg police and ABC agents increase their enforcement of Virginia laws regarding alcohol and for JMU to review the current “three strikes policy.” 
It is my experience that these agencies are already committed to enforcement of the law and certainly increased effort to enforce existing law is a good idea but requires no action by JMU itself.
The “three strikes policy” is an area where JMU can have a direct impact on the culture of alcohol.  On the JMU web site it notes that “After being found responsible for three alcohol or drug violations, a student may be suspended for a minimum of one semester.”   Why does it take three violations of Virginia law to get suspended from a Virginia funded institution?  If you want to change the alcohol culture go to a “one strike and you are out” policy.   This is something JMU could do directly to impact the problem.  JMU has about 12,000 applicants each year for 3000 openings for freshman students. Why tolerate alcohol misconduct when there are at least 4 other students waiting in line for the spot that alcohol misconduct student are taking up at JMU?  JMU already has a Substance Abuse Prevention Initiative and counseling available for students who want to address any problems with alcohol or drugs.  If these adults choose not to seek treatment but to violate law then JMU should be intolerant of this behavior and suspend students on the first strike.  This will have a real impact on the alcohol culture in a few years.
Parent Involvement: Parents will be notified after a student’s first alcohol violation…. Parents will be sent a postcard one to two weeks prior to their student’s 21st birthday, encouraging parents to talk with their son or daughter about having a healthy celebration.
               JMU has to decide if their students are adults or children.  I vote for treating students as adults.  JMU’s Mission statement is: “We are a community committed to preparing students to be educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives.”   Educated an enlightened citizens are adults and are responsible for their choices not their parents.  The policy of notifying parents is paternalistic and infantilizing and works against the mission statement of JMU.
Education and Programming:  The university will conduct an aggressive “know your guest” campaign…”services for a weekend” program…. Work with fraternities and sororities…target alcohol abuse reduction efforts ….and educate students about the safe and responsible use of social media. 
  These all sound like good efforts and one would hope that education efforts would be an area that JMU would perform very well.
               I find President Rose’s response to the alcohol problem at JMU to be woefully inadequate.  I think it is time for the JMU Board of Visitors to appoint an independent commission to study and make policy recommendations to drastically impact the alcohol problem at JMU.  We have epidemic violation of Virginia laws and riots and President Rose wants to send a postcard to parents telling them their student is about to turn 21.  We are at a crisis point now; we don’t want to wait for a student to die because of a lack of adequate action by President Rose.

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