University News

Alcohol, pot use on campus measured

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010
#1.2421378

Clarification appended.

Most students at Brown drink alcohol, and just under half had used marijuana this semester at the time of last month’s Herald poll.

According to the poll, 84.1 percent of students had consumed alcohol and 41.8 percent had used marijuana at that point in the semester. Of students surveyed, 41.2 percent used both pot and alcohol at least once. For alcohol, the plurality of students said they drink more than once a week but less than daily. Among users of marijuana, the most common frequency was once a month or less.

“Students usually overestimate, so usually what you think is going on is not what you would actually expect,” said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services. “Our rates are pretty typical for college campuses.”

Klawunn cited University survey data from 2009 stating that 77 percent of Brown students reported having zero to four beverages on a typical night of drinking, with 20 percent of the student body completely abstaining from drinking.

“When I meet with students, it seems less like peer pressure and more like group momentum,” said Director of Health Education Frances Mantak. “There isn’t pressure to drink, but people get caught up in the group momentum,” she added.

“I never felt pressured to smoke or drink, and I feel people are understanding either way,” said Martin Aspholm ’14.

The administration’s policy toward alcohol and substance use mainly focuses on harm reduction. “We want to prevent the most dangerous consequences of excessive drinking,” Klawunn said.

All students are required to take an online tutorial regarding the laws of Rhode Island and the University’s policies regarding substance use and the consequences involved in being caught. In addition, all freshmen must attend a program highlighting the negative consequences of alcohol use.

“The assumption is that students can drink responsibly and that those that do drink, do drink responsibly,” said Professor of Community Health Christopher Kahler. “There has been a new rewrite of substance use policy. It tries to encourage individual responsibility for one’s actions around substance use.”

At the time of The Herald’s poll, 72.9 percent of freshmen had drunk alcohol this semester, and that number increased to 87.8 percent for non-freshmen.

“In the very beginning, a lot of people never had experiences drinking,” said Anatol Gudenus ’14. “They are still like scared and intimidated by the whole scene. As they grow up, they realize it’s really not that big of a deal.”

“As you get older you become more comfortable with yourself and the idea of drinking,” said Emily Mepham ’12.

The poll results show no statistically significant difference between men and women drinking, but the data show that men drink more often and in greater quantities than women.

“For some reason, it doesn’t surprise me,” said Christopher Belcher ’11. “I have 11 suitemates, and the people I go to the (Graduate Center Bar) with are my guy suitemates.”

“I feel I often see women get too drunk more often than I see men get too drunk,” said Daniel Rowe Jacobson ’14.

While less than a majority of students are smoking marijuana, the numbers still might be high compared to the national average. A 2008 study of college students by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that 17.0 percent had used marijuana in the past month and 32.3 percent had done so in the prior year.

“Statistics around marijuana are surprising. Well, surprising is a strong word. They are notable in that they are high among other colleges,” Kahler said.

“I live in Keeney (Quadrangle) and I can’t walk down the hall without smelling weed,” Aspholm said.

Among those who answered the poll, 90.7 percent of white students said they had drunk alcohol this semester, while only 75.4 percent of non-white or mixed-race students had done so. Regarding usage of marijuana, 46.7 percent of white students said they had used the drug this semester, whereas only 35.5 percent of non-white or mixed-race students had smoked.

“I think that people grow up with different social expectations, and I think it’s more common for whites to have alcohol as part of socializing,” Mantak said.

“Even in earlier ages, in high school and even junior high school, you see the heaviest use of alcohol among white students,” Kahler said.

“Personally speaking, I’m South Asian,” said Riana Dutt ’13. “Parents just tend to be stricter, and they definitely pass on that idea to their kids that you should be studying, not drinking.”

“I feel white kids might feel safer indulging in any illegal activity,” Jacobson said. “I think white kids have an attitude that’s more like, ‘F— it, no one is gonna give us s—. If they do, we can just talk our way out of it.’ ”

The Herald poll was conducted Nov. 1–2 and has a 3.0 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. For the subsets of freshmen and non-freshmen, respectively, the margins of error are 6.0 percent and 3.5 percent. For the subsets of men and women, respectively, the margins of error are 4.4 percent and 4.1 percent. For the subset of students who identified as only white, the margin of error is 4.0 percent, while the subset of non-white or mixed-race students has a margin of error of 4.6 percent. A total of 915 students completed the poll, which The Herald distributed as a written questionnaire in the University Mail Room in J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night.

An earlier version of this article attributed quotes to Daniel Jacobson ’14. There are two Daniel Jacobsons in the class of 2014. The quotes should have been attributed to Daniel Rowe Jacobson ’14.