From the Daily: A practical step toward reducing binge drinking

Thursday, September 17, 2015 - 8:29pm

At their meeting Monday, members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs proposed an initiative that would add more Friday classes in an effort to curb “Thirsty Thursdays.” During the meeting, University Provost Martha Pollack said she was in favor of this proposal because it would help to limit excessive drinking, which she cites as major issue on campus. This isn’t the first time Pollack has suggested Friday classes, but when she’s done so in the past, it’s been for logistical and budgetary reasons. This suggestion comes on the heels of the University announcing a new alcohol policy and just days after President Mark Schlissel’s remarks at the University’s first-ever all-Greek life meeting, during which he addressed alcohol consumption and party culture in the Greek community. While the proposal has the potential to help curb binge drinking, holding more Friday classes is just a start toward changing an over-arching culture. The University needs to continue to work toward other approaches that combat root issues associated with binge drinking and the Millennial party culture.

Holding more Friday morning classes could be a step toward changing the drinking culture at the University. Since the proposed Friday classes would likely be unpopular, underclassmen who schedule their classes last among University students — especially freshmen — would be more likely to take a large number of Friday classes. If Thursday-night drinking is out of the question for freshmen from the start of their college career because of an early-Friday-morning class, traditional two-day weekends will become the norm for them. Furthermore, if students don't develop excessive drinking early in their college careers, then they could be less likely to ever develop such habits. This increases the likelihood for lasting change at the University.

A 2007 study from University of Missouri's Midwest Alcoholism Research Center suggests this likelihood is valid. “Approximately two-thirds of students who consumed some alcohol Thursday consumed a binge amount if they had late or no Friday classes,” said Philip Wood, a professor of quantitative psychology who contributed to the study. Pollack reiterated this similar sentiment during SACUA’s Monday meeting.

Though Friday classes may make a dent in the effort to reduce binge drinking, it’s not that simple. Excessive drinking is an issue on many college campuses across the nation. Critically thinking about how to address these issues calls into question how much responsibility the University should be taking when it comes to helping students with general life skills: drinking habits as well as time management and health and wellness.

On one hand, it’s the responsibility of the students to control their actions when it comes to consuming alcohol and making it to class or not. On the other hand, binge-drinking culture at the University poses real threats to students’ health and wellness, and should very much be a concern of the administration. At a town hall meeting last week, E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, emphasized this as an administrative priority. Surely, the University has a relevant stake in students’ health and how others perceive our campus.

During the Sept. 14 meeting, SACUA members also encouraged faculty to address drinking habits in their classes by warning against the dangers of excessive drinking and suggesting dry events students could attend. Faculty wouldn’t be doing any harm by speaking to students about drinking habits, but these suggestions do not seem to tackle the root of the problem. A change in drinking culture must come from the students themselves, especially student organizations. If students starting their freshman year are invested in student organizations that involve them in activities not centered around alcohol, they may develop weekly routines that don't include excessive drinking on every weekend or “free” night.

One concern about offering Friday classes is logistical issues, as many students have internships and jobs that require them to work Fridays. Therefore, packing Fridays with more classes could hinder students’ abilities to participate in these activities that help students pay for tuition or gain valuable professional experience.

The University is trying to reduce students’ alcohol consumption, make a safer campus and prevent the University from developing a reputation as a “party school.” Increasing the number of Friday classes, though unlikely to make drastic changes in students’ lives, is another attempt by the University to nudge students toward adopting healthier drinking habits. The University has the right to and should initiate structural changes to the academic week to try to change our drinking culture.