Greeks take responsibility with TIPS instruction

March 31, 2005

Instructor Larry Moore is working the room. His class, 26 young women in leadership positions in the Panhellenic Council, are being quizzed.

"How many of you have ever been visibly intoxicated, raise your hands," Moore instructs. All hands are up.

"How many of you have hugged the porcelain throne?" A majority of the hands are still waving.

"How many of you have woke up beside the toilet?" Still, many hands are waving, although some of the women now wear pained or embarrassed expressions.

Welcome to a TIPS class. Training for Intervention Procedures is fast-paced program that gives college students the tools they need to handle responsible social drinking, as well as the confidence to intervene when others around them are abusing alcohol. Since it was introduced on campus about a year ago, some 400 members of Greek organizations on the University Park campus, about 10 percent of the entire Greek community, have taken the risk-management training, according to Brian Bertges, president of the Interfraternity Council. All 50 members of Pi Beta Phi sorority completed the training in February.

Beginning with an initial grant of $5,000 from the University, Bertges and three others took the TIPS training course for instructors last year.

Bertges said he can see results from the program already. According to a criminal incidents report made available to Bertges, incidents are down 25 percent over last year before the TIPS training took place. Bertges is a fan of the program. "It doesn't tell people not to drink," he said. "It helps people to drink within limits and helps us to recognize a dangerous situation before it becomes bad for the Greek community."

Drew Conly, executive vice president of the Interfraternity Council, took the training last November and has helped train many others in the Greek community since. Response has been overwhelmingly positive, he said. Conly recently attended a State College Borough Council meeting to report on the program's success. "We're hoping to put a dent in the statistics," he said. " I don't think we'll be able to completely solve the problem at Penn State, but we're hoping to prevent a few dangerous incidents before they start."

Recently, the Penn State Greek organizations announced a comprehensive effort to build a healthier Greek experience for students by identifying and expanding the positives of Greek life, a University-wide initiative dubbed "Greek Pride: A Return to Glory."

"We're all about education when it comes to alcohol issues, risk-management education," said Jane Neitz, assistant director of fraternity and sorority life. "While we know abstinence is not a reality, we are focused on responsible drinking and knowing what to do to prevent an emergency before it occurs. If a crisis does occur, we'll be able to handle it. We'll know protocols for getting someone help, know signs to look for if someone has had too much to drink."

Neitz envisioned the TIPS program as an ongoing process, given that students cycle through the University every four years. "It will be ongoing, providing training for every semester into future as long as there is support through grants and other funding," she said. "We'd really like this to be part of the Penn State Greek experience."

Back at the TIPS class, Moore continues quizzing his students. A sheet with photos, labeled "Let's Play 21," has the women estimate the ages of the individuals pictured. The women score abysmally. "We're not good at the age thing," one student observes.
"So, what does this mean?" Moore shoots back. "Card every person every time."

The three-hour class features a manual, videos and interactive discussion. Students are tested at the end of the class and receive certification. TIPS provides basic information about the ethical, legal and medical implications of alcohol usage -- what Blood Alcohol Content is, how absorption rate varies, liability issues and how to recognize behavioral cues like poor judgment, lack of inhibitions and impaired coordination. But it is Moore's fast-paced patter that keeps the class on its toes.

"So, why are you here?" Moore challenged the women. "To learn how to be responsible," one volunteers. "To learn some intervention procedures," said another. "Because I have to be," one tosses back. Moore takes the ball and runs with it. "How many were told you had to be here tonight?" he asked. More than half raised their hands. "Each of us has their own histories with alcohol," Moore responds. "Today we're taking a warm, fuzzy approach to alcohol. I'm not going to be judgmental about this."

The graying Moore, sporting a white golf shirt with TIPS insignia and with bifocals riding half mast on his nose, presents a nonthreatening fatherly image to the class, which likely recognizes him from his stints as DJ at the annual Penn State IFC Panhellenic Dance Marathons. Moore switches on a vintage Bill Cosby video. The comedian riffs on inebriation, complete with retching noises that leave the young women in stitches. Even the class's special guest, State College Mayor Bill Welch, quietly chuckles. Welch is observing the class because The Partnership Against Dangerous Drinking, a group of University- and community-based leaders, as well as representatives from the Bar Owners and Tavern Association, has donated $7,500 to continue the program at the University.

"I think it's very well done," Welch said. "I especially like the machine-gun delivery that Larry has. I think it keeps everyone engaged and paying close attention. It's very easy for the young mind to wander. I'm very impressed with it."

The next video turned out to be a cure for wandering minds. It told the story of Scott Krueger, an MIT student who died of alcohol poisoning in 1997. The graphic re-enactment gets the women's attention. When Moore switched off the television, he was serious. "I've spent way, way, way too many nights at the hospital with students," he said. "I know what goes on. My card's on the front of that (manual). Call me. I mean it."

Sophomore Lauren Odorizzi, president of Zeta Tau, 20, said she was surprised by the video. "It's always shocking when you see something that really happened especially at a fraternity," she said, adding that she was learning about social responsibility and behavioral cues. "It's everybody's responsibility at a party, not just the organizers," Odorizzi observed. "It's about personal accountability. You're your own best judge."
The classes will continue this semester as the Panhellenic Council strives to have all officers, judicial board members and new member educators trained, Neitz said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009