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Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Reduce High-Risk College Drinking: Use Proven Strategies, Fill research Gaps

How to Reduce High-Risk College Drinking: Use Proven Strategies, Fill Research Gaps, Final Report of the Panel on Prevention and Treatment, Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 2002 www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov

This report outlines a review of research and identifies effective interventions dealing with high-risk college drinking.  Some highlights:
"....Prevention work in public health is often guided by a social ecological framework.  This approach recognizes that any health-related behavior, including college student drinking, is affected by multiple levels of influence such as intrapersonal (individual) factors, interpersonal (group) processes, institutional factors, community factors, and public policies (DeJong and Langford, 2002; Stokols, 1996) Health promotion research shows that a strategically planned approach with a range of interventions directed at multiple levels of influence increases the likelihood of success.  Appendix 2, "Typology: A Theoretical Framework for Alcohol Prevention Initiatives," provides an example of the varied types of strategies and activities that can be combined to provide multiple sources of support for reducing high risk drinking. ..." (p3)
"...Individual drinking behavior is influenced by myriad environmental factors such as public and institutional policies and practices, economic factors, messages in the media and social norms (Wagenaar and Perry, 1995).  Reductions in alcohol use and related problems may be achieved by changing such environmental factors (Edward et al., 1994, NIAA, 1997; Toomey et al., 1993; Toomey and Wagenaar, 2002)...."


I am concerned with the environmental factor of JMU's  "institutional policies and practices"- that is the "three strikes" policy.  I think this has created the impression in the students mind that there are no consequences until the third strike.  Again I think the feedback from the students is that they consider a real consequence to be suspension from the university for a semester.  Being put on probation and having to attend educational or assessment interventions are not viewed as "real" consequences by the students.  Why not a zero tolerance policy?  According to the Judicial affairs report for the last year there were 3575 sanctions but only 35 suspensions.  I think how many times does a student have to actually violate alcohol rules before they are caught and reported to judicial affairs? If you look at yourself and think how many times have I driven over the posted speed limit versus how many times have I received a speeding ticket- those are two very different numbers. I think we can assume that the JMU student who appears before the judicial affairs group has had multiple infractions that went under the radar.  In my thinking this means the one time you have the student before judicial affairs is your opportunity to intervene with a student that most likely has an ongoing pattern of alcohol misconduct and happened to get caught on this occasion. For the students and JMU's benefit we should take this opportunity to intervene. I think the recent Springfest gives a good example of the difficulty in getting convictions for alcohol misconduct. "According to the DNR (Daily News Record), five of at least 10 felony cases from the riot have been dropped( "The Breeze" Vol.87,No12, October 7, 2010). The riot is estimated to have had 8000 participants and only 10 felony arrest and as of today five of the ten  are dropped. 
    Going to a zero tolerance policy and suspending a student for a semester for their first alcohol violation is an extreme sanction, but are we not at the point at JMU where extreme- outside of the norm actions are required for the negative alcohol culture to change?  I am sure this would be a very unpopular policy change and this is one reason why I believe there needs to be an outside of JMU influence to create a dramatic change in the JMU negative alcohol culture.

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