Monday, May 9, 2011

Purdue joins larger effort to curb binge drinking

By Taya Flores :: Journal and Courier :: May 8, 2011

A pervasive drinking culture among college students is no secret.

Nationally, 40 percent of college students engaged in binge drinking at least once during the past two weeks, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Binge drinking -- or consumption of five consecutive drinks for men or four for women in about two hours -- puts people at risk for injuries, alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault and liver disease.

The drinking culture at Purdue University isn't far behind the national average -- 37 percent of students have participated in binge drinking, said Lee Gordon, assistant vice president for student affairs at Purdue.

To help curb irresponsible drinking behavior on campus, this month the university joined 13 other colleges and universities in the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking, a new effort of the National College Health Improvement Project. The project was founded in 2010 by Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim.

Other institutions involved in the collaborative include Boston, Cornell, Duke, Frostburg State, Northwestern, Ohio, Princeton and Stanford. Additional institutions will be accepted until May 20.

Purdue also is launching AlcoholEdu, an online education course for students, in July. Gordon is the Purdue point person for the collaborative. Here, he discusses Purdue's new alcohol-abuse prevention initiatives.

Question: What is the goal of the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking?

Answer: We will see if there are any best practices or solutions that any of the collaborative institutions have found to be useful, and we will bring that back to our institution and make improvements.

Q: One of the goals of the collaborative is to use drinking behavior statistics to reduce binge drinking on college campuses. How will this be accomplished?

A: Purdue currently has different assessment practices in place, and we will be implementing new assessment activities, as well such as the AlcoholEdu course. Students will take the course and complete an exam. From that exam we will have an assessment.

We have student wellness assessments where we survey students about their culture and their habits and participation in drinking. We will collect that information as well. We may also do focus groups to sit down with students to understand -- through conversation and dialogue -- why they engage in alcohol or why they don't or why their friends do or don't.

Q: Purdue will spend 18 months working with this new collaborative. At the end of this time span what does Purdue hope to accomplish?

A: (We are trying to find) new approaches, whether it be scientific, therapeutic or marketing. There are many different ways to approach this.

I think to some degree students feel that the college culture (is that) the norm is to drink. I think that when students learn that actually the majority of students do not drink -- they actually abstain from alcohol -- when students learn of that, that's really eye-opening. ...

We're not saying to students: Don't drink. If you don't drink, that's fine; continue not drinking. If you do drink, drink responsibly, and here's how to do it, and that's the approach we are taking.

Q: Who will take the AlcoholEdu course?

A: It will be expected of all first-year undergraduate students. In addition to first-year students, athletes and recreational club officers and the Boiler Gold Rush team leaders. The team leaders are individuals who welcome new students in the fall. All freshman and sophomores in fraternities, sororities and cooperative housing. The last group is all students living in university residences who are under age 21.

Q: Are there incentives for students to complete this online course?

A: There is no incentive. However, students who find themselves in a situation where they have violated a university alcohol policy and they did not take the course, then the sanctions against that student will probably be higher.

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