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Campus drinking patterns hard to define, officials say

Terra Molengraff/Daily
Students make wax hands at UMix Late Night at the Michigan Union on Friday, April 1. Buy this photo

BY CLAIRE HALL
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 3, 2011

Instead of grabbing a cup of jungle juice on Friday nights, many students choose free food at the Michigan Union, accompanied by a movie screening or singing karaoke.

The free weekend activities are part of UMix, a University-sponsored event that takes place every other week. While it was originally instituted as an alternative to drinking on Friday nights, University officials say it is unclear whether UMix has had a significant impact on the rate of underage drinking on campus since it began almost five years ago.

Though binge drinking on campus decreased from 2007 to 2009, there has been an increase in the number of students brought to the University hospital for drinking this year compared to last year. There has also been a rise in the number of violations reported to University offices related to alcohol education and conflict resolution. But due to several factors, University officials say it is hard to determine the actual patterns of students’ drinking in the last few years.

Eric Heilmeier, program adviser for University Unions Arts and Programs who oversees the UMix program, said UMix attracts between 500 and 900 students at each event. But even with a steady attendance rate, Heilmeier said it is difficult to gauge UMix’s effect on student drinking rates at the University.

“ The night (students) do choose to come to UMix, they more often than not don’t participate in drinking because they already have something going on,” Heilmeier said.

In addition to free movies and karaoke, other activities that have been offered at UMix include billiards, video games, roller-skating and making music videos using a green screen.

The 2009 Student Life Survey, conducted by the University’s Substance Abuse Research Center and Addiction Research Center, examined patterns of binge drinking and other alcohol and drug habits among University students. The study found that there has been a statistically significant drop in the percentage of binge drinkers — 52.1 to 46.3 — at the University between 2007 and 2009.

This continues a downward progression in the number of binge drinkers on campus from a peak of 53.2 percent in 2005 to 46.3 percent in 2009. However, Mary Jo Desprez, the alcohol and other drug policy and prevention administrator at University Health Services, said until the 2011 survey has been completed, it is impossible to tell if the recent decreases can be classified as a trend or as just a deviation in the data.

Despite the percentage drop in binge drinking from 2007 to 2009, more students have been taken to the hospital for their alcohol intake this year compared to last year. This academic year, 156 University students have been transported to the emergency room by authorities for excessive intoxication, Desprez said. Fifteen of the students were repeat offenders, she added. In comparison, Desprez said 113 students were taken to the hospital for excessive intoxication during the 2009-10 academic year.

According to the 2009-2010 executive summary of AlcoholEdu for College surveys — administered to uncover drinking tendencies of freshmen before the academic year and again several weeks into their first semester — drinking rates of University of Michigan freshmen are similar to national averages.

Desprez said when freshmen come to the University, there is a range of drinking preferences. These include non-drinkers who intend to stay non-drinkers, non-drinkers interested in trying alcohol in college, students who already drink a significant amount and students who have an alcohol addiction. The University attempts to provide resources and support for all students, Desprez said.

“(The University’s) responsibility is to make sure we have something for students wherever they fall along that continuum,” Desprez said.

Combating the alcohol culture among college students and attracting them to non-alcoholic-based events is something the University has been working toward and will continue to do, Desprez said.

"Right now we don’t really have anything as powerful as the beverage industry has in their advertisements, and that becomes really difficult,” she said. “Until we can really do well with media literacy and really pick apart those ads — that’s sort of what we’re up against in terms of how do I feel like I can connect with someone.”

The University’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution has also seen a significant rise in the number of students going through the center’s Adaptable Conflict Resolution for Alcohol and Other Drugs Program. OSCR Director Jay Wilgus said the program has seen an increase from 112 students last year to more than 300 so far this year.

“I’m not certain that (the increase) is a result of increased drinking,” Wilgus said. “All factors indicate that it’s a sign of increased reporting from Ann Arbor Police Department.”

Because of improved communication between AAPD and OSCR, students who had previously received Minor in Possession citations but had not sought help from OSCR are now being referred there, Wilgus said.

According to the University’s Department of Public Safety website, in 2009 there were 324 liquor law arrests or citations — defined as violating laws including the transportation and possession of alcohol — on campus property and 655 referrals to non-police programs like OSCR for disciplinary actions. For reports in 2007 and 2008, the number of citations and referrals were about 500.

Wilgus and Desprez said the funding firm grants AAPD received for enforcement this fall has probably accounted for part of the increase in the number of violations reported to their offices.

Desprez noted that UMix’s sole purpose is not to combat alcoholism on campus.

“(UMix’s) goal is not necessarily to do alcohol reduction,” she said. “Their goal at the (University) Unions is to do a really fun event in the Union on Friday night, because when you do that, people will come.”

The AlcoholEdu for College surveys indicated that students’ most important reasons for drinking included having a good time with friends, celebrating and being outgoing in social situations. Desprez also said many students drink to try to form connections among peers.

Desprez said she believes UMix provides a place for students who don’t drink or who drink rarely to come and have fun.

In attendance at UMix this past Friday, LSA sophomore Katie Gauthier said she and her friend, LSA freshman Elizabeth Swindle, come to almost every UMix event because the specific activities offered, like the wax hands students could make at Friday’s event, are a fun alternative to going out.

“We don’t drink, and there’s not a lot to do on a Friday night if we don’t drink,” Gauthier said.

Though UMix is a non-alcoholic event — as are all programs administered by UUAP — even students who have been drinking are welcome to stop by and get food before heading home, Heilmeier said.

“We don’t advertise it as a non-alcoholic event because it’s not about the drinking,” he said. “The event is about students coming together and having fun.”

Other events on campus, however, are more explicit alternatives to drinking. Students for Recovery, a campus organization established almost two years ago, advocates sobriety and lends support to students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

“Our purpose is really just to promote an overall wellness on campus and to promote an alternative to the social culture here,” Jennifer Cervi, a master’s student in the School of Social Work and the group’s president, said.

The organization, which is supported entirely by donations, hosts movie and game nights, coffee crawls instead of bar crawls and dances in collaboration with the Michigan Electronic Dance Music Association that are open to all students, not just those in recovery, Cervi said.

“We have 20 core members that are in recovery, but we’ll get up to 200 people at our dance, easy,” she said.

The University’s Residence Halls Association also provides alternative events on the weekends, according to Public Policy sophomore DJ McKerr, RHA’s vice president for public relations.

In addition to RHA-sponsored events like Pre-Class Bash and Siblings Weekend, RHA works closely with each residence hall’s multicultural and hall councils to put on events such as casino nights and ice cream socials. McKerr said.the events draw students who would probably not attend parties as well as those who would but choose to go to the RHA events instead.

Though Heilmeier said UMix has a consistent attendance rate and is considering bringing in new activities like a live band to attract more people, many students say they never thought about attending the event.

LSA senior Maria Galano said she has never been to UMix and found it unappealing because of its association with the University.

“I just wasn’t interested in going and hanging out at, kind of, a school function on a Friday night,” Galano said. “I spent my whole week in school.”

LSA senior Nick Caverly said he hasn’t attended the events but said he doesn’t feel there is a stigma surrounding them.

“I don’t think that it’s socially unacceptable,” Caverly said. “I just think (it isn't) something that my friends and I … ever thought about going to, so we never went.”

Though she has never been to UMix either, LSA senior Kristen Krause said she thinks it is fun for students who do attend.

“I know a lot of people that … go all the time, so for those that like to be involved in that kind of thing, more power to them,” Krause said.


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