University continues widespread initiatives to stem dangerous behavior

Within the first year of his arrival at University Park, Pa., and after more than 30 years in leadership positions in higher education, Penn State President Graham Spanier said he believed that excessive alcohol consumption was the most pressing issue in higher education. Since that time, Penn State has added considerably to student-centered initiatives that aim to educate students about the risks and impact of dangerous drinking behaviors.

In his 1996 State of the University address, Spanier said, "My objective is not to eradicate alcohol but rather to reduce those mechanisms that institutionalize excessive alcohol consumption and socialize our new students to give such behavior a high priority and peer recognition." In the years that have followed, high-risk drinking behavior has become a nationwide concern of high priority.

"Despite efforts at prevention, the prevalence of binge drinking among college students is continuing to rise, and so are the harms associated with it," according to an August 2009 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The article continued, "Researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) said the proportion of college students aged 18 to 24 years who engaged in binge drinking (defined as having 5 or more drinks on an occasion in the previous 30 days) increased from 41.7 percent in 1998 to 44.7 percent in 2005. At the same time, the number of deaths from unintentional alcohol-related injury increased from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005, or 18.5 to 19.0 per 100,000 students (a 3 percent increase, although the increase was not statistically significant). Also, the proportion of those who reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year increased from 26.5 percent to 28.9 percent." (The previous figures refer to a study headed by R.W. Hingson, director of the NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs–Supplement, in 2009. The full JAMA article is available at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/302/8/836 - JMN90079FA online.)

"High-risk drinking behavior is a highly important topic on college and university campuses across the United States. Despite our best efforts, we have seen less progress than we would like in the ongoing effort to curb high-risk drinking among our students," said Damon Sims, vice president of Student Affairs at Penn State. "However, we remain focused in our efforts and continue to try a wide range of programs and initiatives to educate students and their parents, and to chip away at a problem that takes the lives of 1,700 college students a year nationwide."

Penn State's efforts include social marketing, curriculum infusion, substance-free housing options, peer initiatives, workshops and presentations, policy reminders, targeted initiatives to high-risk groups, an intervention program, on-campus counseling programs and reminders of off-campus self-help groups, increased safety monitoring of student activities and the addition of alcohol-free late-night social activities. The University's LateNight program has become a national model among colleges and universities across the United States.

Penn State also participates in several statewide and nationwide programs, including the Source Investigation Project (SIP), funded in part by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS), an intervention training program for alcohol sales, service and use. AlcoholEdu is an online education program administered to incoming first-year students before they arrive on campus.

The University has joined with the Borough of State College, Pa., to form The Partnership – Campus and Community United Against Dangerous Drinking, which worked together to implement local tavern policies aimed at curbing excessive 21st-birthday drinking behaviors, among other efforts. Trained health-education staff members collaborate with Mount Nittany Medical Center to follow up with students who have been seen at the medical center's emergency department for alcohol-related care. The partnership also holds alcohol-free social events during the year geared toward high school and college-age audiences.

The possession of alcohol and alcohol sales are not permitted at Penn State student-athletic events, and alcohol advertising is prohibited in those facilities. On-campus and local personnel and a percentage of Greek organization members are required to complete TIPS server training.

Among several student/University collaborations, the Interfraternity Council adopted a new policy regarding the security and scheduling of fraternity socials, in an unprecedented attempt to discourage high-risk drinking and incidents at those events.

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Last Updated December 18, 2009