Alcohol report addresses education, Orientation

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The campus committee charged with reviewing the University’s alcohol policy released a report last month calling for increased oversight in residence halls and an expansion of alcohol education programming for first-years, members of Greek houses and athletic teams.

Though alcohol and social events policies have long been a concern of University officials, the issue jumped to the top of the administration’s agenda last November after Queer Alliance’s Sex Power God party, which resulted in 24 students requiring emergency medical attention.

In response, then-Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services David Greene, who stepped down last month, created an ad hoc committee to review social events policies and asked the existing alcohol subcommittee to reconsider the University’s alcohol policy. The ad hoc committee ended its work last month.

Unlike the ad hoc committee, which was created in the wake of Sex Power God and a melee on the Main Green the preceding evening that ended with shots being fired, the alcohol subcommittee is a standing subcommittee of the Campus Life Advisory Board. “Our work was not in response to any particular campus event, but was intended to be a periodic review to keep our policies and approach up-to-date and timely,” the report states.

Nancy Barnett, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and co-chair of the subcommittee, said, “We went into the policy review wanting to take a very comprehensive look at all the different areas that are related to alcohol use at Brown.”

The committee, which included representatives from the Undergraduate Council of Students, Greek Council and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, heard from students and other campus life constituencies in order to determine what alcohol-related issues face the University.

Among the recommendations included in the 23-page report is an increase in oversight in the residence halls, primarily through adjustments to the existing Residential Peer Leader program.

“We consistently heard that students are frequently disturbed by noise, parties in individual rooms, garbage and alcohol-related damage to the living quarters,” the report states. “We learned from several sources that complaints about vandalism, vomit in the bathrooms and damage occur in some residence halls at least once a week. … It is apparent that weekend drinking in particular has become normalized in the residences.”

Frances Mantak, director of health education and vice chair of the committee, said the committee was especially concerned about the “wide-ranging effect” heavy drinking has on students who do not drink or drink only a little. “One of the themes that emerged for us is how do we give voice to students who have had negative experiences with alcohol and are less likely to talk about them,” she said.

The report recommends that RPLs receive better training on how to detect and address alcohol-related problems, follow-up on incidents with targeted interventions and receive the authority to issue formal warnings for behavioral violations.

During training last month, this year’s RPLs were told to pay special attention to alcohol problems, said Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president for campus life, dean of student life and the subcommittee’s other co-chair. Most RPLs were very receptive, particularly because many of them had personally witnessed troubling alcohol-fueled behavior in dorms, Klawunn said.

Klawunn said RPLs were instructed to follow an “address and report” policy, whereby they address problems to students – such as telling a student who drank heavily early in the night that he or she should not go out and drink more that night – and report problems to Community Directors or other officials when necessary. Community Directors are graduate students who live in dorms and supervise undergraduate RPLs.

Even though the report calls for increased staffing in dorms, Klawunn said the Department of Public Safety would not reinstate its past practice of routinely patrolling residence halls. RPLs, however, have been instructed to call DPS if problems arise and are assured that DPS officers will respond quickly, Klawunn said.

Klawunn added that University officials will take a stricter stance against drinking games. DPS officers have been specifically instructed to take action when they see drinking-game paraphernalia, such as “beer-pong” tables, she said.

The committee also recommended alcohol education programs targeted at three groups often exposed to frequent binge drinking: first-years, students living in Greek and program houses and athletes.

Existing alcohol-education programming during Orientation for first-years may be retooled, according to the report. The report also recommends shortening Orientation, because “any time on campus during which there are few academic responsibilities is a high risk time for drinking” and a shorter Orientation would “more quickly focus students on their academic life at Brown,” the report said.

Greek and program house members and athletes should be targeted for additional alcohol harm-reduction training because “the relationship between student patterns of drinking and group membership is bidirectional. For example, students who drink more gravitate toward Greek organizations, and they are also influenced by the higher levels of drinking once they are members,” the report states.

The committee never considered altering the existing Emergency Medical Services policy, which allows students to seek medical attention without fear of disciplinary sanctions, Mantak said.

Brian Becker ’09, UCS campus life chair and a member of the committee, said the committee tried to balance safety with respect for students. “A lot of the recommendations are really geared toward helping create a safer environment for students at Brown. … We tried to preserve Brown’s culture while also keeping in mind student safety, which I think is a higher concern,” he said.

The committee’s report was officially submitted last month to Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, interim vice president for campus life and student services. Before policy changes are implemented, the committee will present the report to the Campus Life Advisory Board, UCS, the Residential Council and other campus groups. Carey will also formally solicit feedback from students. The report is available on the Web site for the Office of Campus Life and Student Services.

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