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U. looks to ensure Spring Weekend safety

Two years ago, Kathleen McSharry, associate dean for writing and issues of chemical dependency, wanted to see for herself what Spring Weekend was like. Coming into work on a Saturday, she put her hair up in a ponytail, wore jeans, a windbreaker and tennis shoes and walked around the Main Green. The transformation was complete, and she blended in easily with the mass of students crowding the lawn.

She saw exactly what she expected — a wide array of Brown students drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.

"There was a pervasive smell of beer, and quite a bit of pot smoking with no consequences for students," she said.

As someone who meets with students on a daily basis to discuss issues such as substance abuse and chemical dependency, McSharry wanted to experience Spring Weekend firsthand in order to get a sense of the temptations students who have substance abuse problems might face during the annual concert series.

"That's a really hard environment for someone who is recovering. This year, everyone wants to go to Snoop Dogg, right? If it's like how it was when I used to go to concerts, I'm assuming pot is passed row-to-row," she said.

"It's hard for people trying to recover, because they want to participate — it's a symbolic way of joining in Spring Weekend," she added.

‘Prevalence versus perception'
This sense of a communal atmosphere surrounding the use of alcohol and other substances during Spring Weekend helps feed into the cultural stereotype that a large number of Brown students use drugs and drink regularly.

"It's all about prevalence versus perception," said Frances Mantak, director of health education.

Mantak said that many students on campus overestimate how often their peers use drugs and alcohol on campus.

"It's a typical psychological phenomenon," Mantak said.

"You have a small number of students who drink heavily and make noise, and then all that people talk about the next day is that group of students — this makes those who don't drink or don't use drugs to think it is more prevalent," she said.

According to a 2008 study conducted by Health Education and the Department of Public Health, nearly one out of five students at Brown don't drink. A Herald poll last fall found that about one in three students smoked marijuana within the previous month.

These figures are not that different from national statistics. A 2005 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University showed that 33.3 percent of college students had tried marijuana in the previous year, while 68 percent reported drinking alcohol.

Mantak said that issuing such statistics out to the student body is part of her office's attempts at subliminal "passive education."

Throughout the year, Health Education issues table slips in the dining halls and puts up posters featuring statistics and safety tips in order to "help people think about prevention" and "harm reduction," Mantak said.

Maintaining vigilance
Having worked at Brown for 10 years, Mantak said that all groups involved in putting on Spring Weekend have done a much better job at "maintaining vigilance from multiple levels."

Mantak cited that event management has become "very strong" in recent years, by doing everything for students from providing food at large events to the use of Green Horn Management security.

Mantak said this improvement in managing events has occurred across the board during activities at other points in the year, such as Halloween, St. Patrick's Day and Sex Power God, when alcohol and drug use are at an elevated level on campus.

"We just do a much better job overall than in the past," she said.

Part of what makes the weekend run smoothly is the work done by Emergency Medical Services. This year, EMS will have Emergency Medical Technicians stationed at all major Spring Weekend events including Friday and Saturday's concerts, Friday's Foam Dance Party on Lincoln Field, Saturday's Rage on Wriston and Sunday's Dave Binder concert, wrote Amy Sanderson, manager of safety and EMS, in an e-mail to The Herald.

In anticipation of large crowds at Saturday's Snoop Dogg concert, EMS has arranged to have a second ambulance at the concert in addition to the usual Brown EMS personnel and emergency vehicle. "Our ambulance needs to be available to the entire campus community, so the additional hired ambulance ensures that there is a dedicated unit at the concert, similar to what you see at football games," she wrote in her e-mail.

For Mantak, EMS response is crucial at events like Spring Weekend — but there is always room for improvement.

"We are always working on ways to address what goes on at each event. Every year we review what happens at Spring Weekend," she said.

"We try to be pretty consistent in getting lots of messages out to lots of people," she added.
Mantak said she had no idea how many EMS transports would be called out this year. Last year, The Herald reported that the total count of EMS transports dropped by two from 2008 to 2009. At last year's Spring Weekend, eight total transports were called out between the two concerts.

To party, or not to party?
Though a long line snaked down George Street yesterday when it was announced that more tickets would be released because both concerts would be held outdoors, some students will not be participating in the weekend festivities.

"It's just such a big crowd and it really doesn't appeal to me," said Sara Mann '10.
Mann, who attended an outdoor Spring Weekend concert her freshman year, said the concept of hundreds of Brown students crowding the Main Green does not hold much appeal.

"When I think of Spring Weekend, I think of really muscular football players tossing bags across the yard outside (Theta Delta Chi)," Mann said.

Mann said another association she has with Spring Weekend is an added incentive for the student body to drink more than normal or try drugs.

"I think a lot of people are involved in that scene. Most of my friends drink more than they usually do," she said, adding that "I think it's cool that everyone is very consciously trying to let go, and that they have a place for that."

What Mann said she does not like is the trash that usually covers the campus greens. "It's really annoying how there's litter everywhere," she said.

While there are plenty of events and parties surrounding the weekend's concerts, Mann said there are not many alternative options for people who choose not to party throughout the weekend.

"The options are either do your own thing, or participate in the boisterous fiesta of Spring Weekend," she added.

Jodi-Ann Dattadeen '12 will probably have a different weekend than Mann.

Dattadeen said the drug and alcohol culture that has come to be associated with the weekend "is one of the reasons people look forward to Spring Weekend," calling drug and alcohol consumption during the concert series "more accelerated" on campus.

When it comes to students, like Mann, who do not participate in many of the weekend's events, Dattadeen said, "there's not a lot of options for them."

"I didn't really think about that before. I feel there's a lot of pressure to drink or smoke or do whatever they're doing," she added.

A student-driven campus
When Director of Student Activities Phil O'Hara '55 attended Brown, there was no Spring Weekend.

"We had nothing like this. The only thing I can remember are rallies during football season that we used to have on the Faunce terrace," O'Hara said.

Flash forward 55 years, and O'Hara called the Brown social scene "exciting" with events like Spring Weekend.

Working at Brown since 1987, O'Hara
said he is proud of the work that various departments at the University do to ensure Spring Weekend runs smoothly.

"Everything we do — whether it's Health Education, DPS, Student Life, Facilities — is to try to support these events and have them be successful and safe," he said.

To ensure this, O'Hara's office has worked carefully with Brown Concert Agency planners to set up a decibel meter to "make sure sounds are not invasive" to the surrounding Providence community, a standard that is included in performers' contracts. The Student Activities Office has also worked on setting up a Brown Key Society-sponsored breakfast on Wriston for students attending the Sunday Dave Binder concert.

"They're providing free food for students who might be going on an empty stomach to mitigate any unfavorable results," O'Hara said.

Helping BCA with the weekend's concerts is part of the mission of O'Hara's office. "We are one of many departments that helps students to plan safe and financially-viable activities," he said.

"You can expect a hospitable, amicable and friendly environment for the community," O'Hara added.

O'Hara said that there are "a lot of challenges students face today" — issues involving substance abuse included — "and a whole process of learning who they are and who they are meant to be."

"This is a student-driven school, not a staff-driven school," he said. "At Brown, students schedule co-curricular activities, and we're here to support everyone in a safe and successful way."

A watchful eye
From her third-floor University Hall office, Dean McSharry has a good view of the Brown campus. Every day she interacts with students who come to see her after multiple EMS visits or are referred to her from Psychological Services or other sources on campus.
"Some find me themselves," she said, noting that 80 to 90 percent of the students she interacts with are undergrads.

She said for students with tendencies toward substance abuse and possible chemical dependency — a need to use alcohol or drugs that doesn't diminish over time — the college setting provides a "higher, artificial environment, where students are protected."

Addiction to various substances is three times more likely between the ages of 12 and 19 — which overlaps with the range when most teens decide to head off to college, she said.
McSharry said this includes both marijuana and alcohol use, with "daily pot smokers shaving off the top ten percent of performance. They say they are ‘making it' just fine, but they could be doing so much better," she said.

McSharry said she understands the struggles of some of her students because she herself is a recovering alcoholic.

"I'll see more students as we approach finals — they come to see me. They've had varying success of moderating their substance use and cannot handle the work as well as they'd like to," she said, adding that there are a lot of outlets on campus for students to seek help.

She said it is also important for the campus to realize that not all Brown students use drugs or alcohol. "Do you guys really want your student body to be defined in such a reductive way? I would like all students to bear in mind that not everyone does alcohol and drugs," she said.

McSharry said it is important to be vigilant when it comes to those students who do suffer from addictions on campus, especially during celebratory times like Spring Weekend.

"I would like to see more awareness that there is a population out there dealing with this —  we need to be more mindful of that," she said.


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