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Letters to the Editor

Letter: Article misleads on campus consumption

By
Thursday, April 10, 2014

We write to offer a broader perspective on the University’s work to address alcohol and substance use, in response to the article by Riley Davis and Joseph Zappa. We appreciate the authors’ clear description of Emergency Medical Services and how well they are embraced by students.  However, the article did not articulate the overall context of harm reduction in which the University’s policies and programs are based, nor did it mention other services and programs available on campus.  

Health Education offers many programs, educational materials and an extensive web site, all of which are designed to provide students with accurate information and harm reduction strategies. Residential Life and the Residential Peer Leaders work to create respectful communities in which alcohol and other drug use are not disruptive. Student Activities staff work with student organizations to emphasize broad appeal and safety in event planning and implementation. Dean of Chemical Dependency Kathleen McSharry provides support for students in recovery and educates the campus community about the impact of alcohol and other drugs.  The Office of Student Life and Psychological Services also regularly supports students whose lives are disrupted by substance abuse. And the Student Conduct system addresses incidents in which a student’s alcohol or drug use causes individual or community harm.

Perceptions of use are always higher than what is actually true. For example, Brown students believe that 87 percent of their peers have smoked marijuana in the past 30 days, far more than the 25 percent who have.  It’s unfortunate that the authors of this article relied so heavily on a few anonymous interviews. In doing so, they have contributed to misperception of use on campus. Consider the results of two well-constructed anonymous, web-based surveys of Brown students conducted in 2012 and 2013:

• 1 out of 5 Brown students don’t drink

• 3 out of 4 Brown students haven’t smoked marijuana in the past 30 days

• Less than 10 percent of Brown students have ever used ecstasy or MDMA

We regularly see students who don’t drink or use any drugs. Some students feel isolated and outside the norm, when in fact they are part of the majority that isn’t drinking heavily or using drugs. We also see students who recognize that one or more of their friends is using alcohol and drugs in harmful ways. They don’t like it when friends turn into ‘people I don’t recognize.’ They want support for establishing other options, but they often feel caught up in the false belief that ‘this is what everyone does in college.’ Highlighting the extreme doesn’t help us come up with solutions.

The University is fortunate to have one of the most diverse and most interesting student bodies in the world. We cherish this diversity and work very hard to foster a campus environment that supports all students. We hope that future Herald articles on this topic will present a more complete picture of students’ attitudes and behaviors around drugs and alcohol.

 

Margaret Klawunn, Vice President for Campus Life & Student Services, Interim Dean of the College

Kathleen McSharry, Bruce Donovan ’59 Dean of Chemical Dependency

MaryLou McMillan ’85, Senior Director for Planning and Student Engagement

Allen Ward, Senior Associate Dean for Student Life

Frances Mantak ’88, Director of Health Education

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