Trustees hear comprehensive University plan to mitigate alcohol abuse

University Park, Pa. — The fall 2010 semester marks the renewal of a sustained, broad-based campaign to reduce the negative consequences of alcohol in the Penn State community, according to Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, during a presentation today (Sept. 17) to the University's Board of Trustees.

"The challenge of dangerous alcohol misuse among college students reaches nationwide and is far from new," said Sims, who also co-chairs The Partnership – Campus and Community United Against Dangerous Drinking with Borough of State College Manager Tom Fountaine. Sims and panelists Fountaine; Linda LaSalle, University Health Services' associate director for educational services; Joe Puzycki, Student Affairs assistant vice president; and Max Wendkos, Interfraternity Council president, outlined the campaign's efforts during their presentation.

"The University's new strategy has been instituted following careful planning and discussion, especially incorporating input requested from student leaders who are working together to find the improvements we seek," Sims added. "We have chosen to pursue a multi-pronged approach over an extended time that will encourage every constituency to contribute to a better outcome for Penn State students' health, safety and educational experience."

The new strategy follows months of reconsideration of related policies, practices and partnerships designed to address this issue. The plan has more than 30 components that emphasize education; environmental change; enforcement; alternative activities; intervention, counseling and related support; and outreach.

Education -- Even before new students arrive on campus, they take part in alcohol education programs. Now in its third year of use, AlcoholEdu is a required online course for all incoming Penn State students. To improve its effectiveness, the University is developing its own tailored version of the course for future implementation. In addition, when incoming students completed the First-Year Testing, Consulting and Advising Program (FTCAP) this year, they and their parents saw more significantly emphasized alcohol policies and expectations about students' responsible decision-making. Also, a 15-member faculty committee is developing a classroom-based educational campaign to reduce high-risk drinking among Penn State students, and on-campus students will see increased residence hall programming that addresses health and safety risks, such as sexual assault and relationship violence, often affected by alcohol consumption.

Environmental change -- Beginning this year, University Park's East Halls have been designated alcohol-free residence halls, and next fall the designation will expand to the other traditional residential environments on campus. "Penn State will soon have one of the two most extensive prohibitions against alcohol possession and use in campus residences among Big Ten schools," Sims noted. Also, the University has created protocol in response to the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) campaign to grant amnesty to students who have consumed alcohol unlawfully and who help peers with alcohol poisoning seek medical assistance. Unless those students assisting others commit additional violations, such as vandalism or assault, they will not face Office of Judicial Affairs action, although they will be required to attend the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) program.

Enforcement -- Already in place is mandatory BASICS participation for all students, both on-campus and off-campus residents, who are cited for alcohol violations or who are treated for alcohol-related needs at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College. New this year is the notification of parents in every alcohol violation case involving an underage student; previously, only serious or repeat cases prompted parental notification. Also, University Police will increase their presence in downtown State College neighborhoods, both on foot and in patrol cars, to alert borough police to problems and add to coverage and visibility. Increased, proactive police presence also will occur at home tailgating lots known for high levels of misconduct.

Alternative Activities -- LateNight PennState programming has been retooled based on collaborations with the Student Programming Association in an effort to refresh alcohol-free activities for greater student participation. Under consideration are off-campus LateNight locations for University Park students not living in residence halls. In addition, student leaders and representatives from Student Affairs will continue the LION Walk initiative throughout the year to reach out to off-campus students.

Intervention, counseling and related support -- The BASICS program combines education and motivational interviewing components. A student must meet one-on-one with a health educator, who will assess the student’s situation, offer motivation and techniques for changing behavior, and make additional referrals for other assistance as appropriate. A newly hired addictions specialist will see students who are struggling with ongoing alcohol abuse problems. To address requests and concerns of University Park students and faculty members who are recovering alcoholics, the Division of Student Affairs worked with the local community to establish an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting on campus. Meetings are held at 5 p.m. Fridays in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center.

Outreach – Parents of first-year students will receive a series of three letters that address the alcohol issue, encourage parental support and guidance, and explain the University's plan to address alcohol misuse. Sims will meet with The Highlands Neighborhood Association, a group representing a downtown State College residential area with a high concentration of student residences. The University Faculty Senate will receive an annual progress report from Sims on the alcohol issue that will outline what faculty can do to help. Articles in University publications and local media also are part of the outreach strategy.

"This plan establishes new approaches that offer real promise of mitigating the most serious effects of alcohol abuse among students," said Sims, noting that several additional options to add to the plan are under consideration. "We will measure the effectiveness of these efforts and make adjustments as required or as better ideas present themselves."

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Last Updated April 18, 2011