More Penn State initiatives aim to curb dangerous drinking

April 21, 2011

University Park, Pa. – High-risk drinking is a nationwide concern that takes the lives of more than 1,800 U.S. college students each year. Education is a top priority at Penn State and that includes teaching students about the risks and impact of dangerous drinking behavior.

Since last fall, a number of initiatives have been instituted in a multi-pronged approach that includes environmental change, enforcement, alternative activities, intervention, counseling and outreach.

"Over the last decade, we have invested an enormous amount of effort into programs that both educate about and offer alternatives to drinking," said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. "In analyzing our efforts, we have been able to draw a number of conclusions about what has had an impact and what more we might do to increase our students' awareness of the issue and the problems we all face when drinking is taken to the extreme."

Beyond educational initiatives, Penn State is taking steps to ensure students' safety through stricter consequences to illegal drinking behaviors, such as increased attention to enforcement and serious consequences to students that violate the community’s laws and the University's student conduct policies. From 2009 to 2010, Penn State’s enforcement statistics have risen significantly. Alcohol and drug charges have increased 21 percent, from 1,031 in fall 2009 to 1,243 in fall 2010. In addition, off-campus drug and alcohol charges also have risen by 123 percent. Residence Life has increased terminated contracts for alcohol or drug use by 400 percent, up from two terminations in 2009 to 10 in 2010. Referrals for alcohol counseling during the same year increased by 158 percent, from 367 referrals in 2009 to 947 in 2010. Enforcement for supplying to minors increased by 70 percent, from 44 cases in the fall of 2009 to 75 in the fall of 2010.

Penn State students, staff and faculty work hard to educate students on the dangers of high-risk drinking. The University's education and outreach efforts include social marketing, curriculum inclusion, substance-free housing options, peer initiatives, support groups, screening and intervention, counseling, self-help groups and alcohol-free late-night social activities, according to Sims.

New to Penn State’s alcohol education initiatives is the Student Alcohol Advisory Committee, comprised of Penn State students who meet with Sims to discuss and review various programs, services and initiatives to mitigate the consequences of dangerous drinking.

Penn State also has increased Judicial Affairs sanctions so that all off-campus underage possession or consumption charges brought against University students are now processed through the University disciplinary system. Sanctions have been adjusted to increase minimum penalties in most cases involving alcohol, and the consequences for re-offenders have increased as well.

Academic Solutions to High-Risk Drinking is another new initiative in which a committee of 15 Penn State faculty explore the idea that discussions of dangerous drinking behavior can and should be addressed in the classroom. The committee is advising University Faculty Senate and others of the possible tools they can use to include in their conversations with students.

Penn State also is notifying parents of every case involving alcohol violations by an underage student. Previously, parents were notified only in more serious or repeat cases. The University also has implemented the Responsible Action Protocol to encourage students to notify the proper authorities (making a 9-1-1 call, alerting residence assistants or police) when friends suffer from alcohol poisoning or a related problem, without fear of facing University sanctions for their own violations. Penn State also encourages students who need help to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, held at 5:15 p.m. every Friday in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the University Park campus. The meeting is open to anyone.

"We continue to work on this issue, adding new programs, revising current methods and trying anything that we believe may prove useful in addressing this issue," Sims said. "We are continually seeking improvement and we believe that a diverse and wide-ranging approach is our best course of action."


Last Updated May 19, 2011