Welcome Week data indicates drop in alcohol-related incidents

Monday, September 5, 2016 - 7:55pm

There was over a 50 percent decrease in alcohol and drug-related hospital visits during the first five weeks of school at UM last year according to Advocate, a Student Life Incident database. In the first five weeks of the 2013 and 2014 fall semesters, more than 100 cases of alcohol- and drug-related hospital visits were reported to the University of Michigan through the database. In 2015, there were 50.

There is no data available yet for 2016. Officials pointed to several reasons for the drastic change, including dry Welcome Week events, programs created by Wolverine Wellness and increased support from the Department of Public Safety and Security and other law enforcement agencies.

Beginning in the 2014 school year, the University began new initiatives to reduce student alcohol and drug use by shortening Welcome Week, the period between student move-in and the first day of class. Based on the data from Advocate, DPSS spokesperson Diane Brown said they believe the shorter Welcome Week contributed to a decline in alcohol-related emergencies on campus, though it is worth noting that in both 2013 and 2014 a home football game took place during Welcome Weekend. In 2015, one did not.

Wolverine Wellness director Mary Jo Desprez said certain factors during periods like Welcome Week that contribute to alcohol- and drug-related conflicts, such as a home football game, are out of the control of Wolverine Wellness and the police departments.

Because of that, Desprez said the University began launching efforts to reduce those instances. Recently, this has included the University’s creation of an alert system for parents of freshmen students who have had a second run-in with alcohol or drugs. Additionally, they have updated the Stay in the Blue phone app. Created in 2013, the app helps students estimate their blood alcohol content, order cabs, track drinking events and even displays a list of events happening in Ann Arbor.

The University also hosts marketed dry events, such as a Friday-night event at the Union that provides activities, games and food as a sober alternative to off-campus parties.

According to the Center for Campus Involvement, the number of students who attended UMix has almost doubled since last year, with 5,258 students attending the nearly weekly events in 2014 and 10,132 in 2015.

Other efforts include sober monitor training for new Interfraternity Council members and the mandatory AlcoholEdu online course for incoming freshmen and undergraduate transfer students. This is the first academic year that all four years of students on campus have completed this course.

Desprez said it is the combination of these efforts, among others, that makes the difference in reducing alcohol-related incidences.  

“The most important thing to know is that these efforts are most effective when they’re done in combination, not just as one thing,” she said. “We always try to do the next best thing or we use evidence-based strategies. We have dogged determination to prevent harm. I think having a plan but then also having collaborative partnerships are the two most important things.”

DPSS Chief Robert Neumann also cited programs aimed at off-campus students such as Beyond the Diag, as well as a partnership between the DPSS and the Ann Arbor Police Department serve to reduce conflict.

Last week, Beyond the Diag, working with DPSS, canvassed the neighborhoods near campus. This included providing off-campus students with information about Stay in the Blue, wellness coaching and other safety and security resources.

Neumann said the community canvassing event allows them to meet off-campus students and inform them about resources.

“It’s an important part of the whole picture of engagement with our off-campus residents to promote their safety and to let them know what services are available here at the University of Michigan, as well as services that are available from the city and other providers,” he said.

As for Welcome Week itself, Neumann said DPSS prepares in advance to keep students safe.

“We do bolster patrols and enforcement activity because this is a high-risk period — this time between move-in and classes,” he said.

Before last year, DPSS was not responsible for off-campus incidents, though they could work in cooperation with AAPD. As of last year, however, DPSS gained county-wide authority to operate independently from AAPD. Though it still coordinates its work with the city police, a formal agreement was made with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office that grants it permission to enforce the law beyond the bounds of campus.

Brown said the main objective with this expanded authority is to continue to raise awareness and educate people about off-campus safety by doing presentations in Greek houses and co-ops as well as working with Beyond the Diag leaders.

“(The police officers) are there to help build relationships, share information, answer questions about nuances with the laws, and discuss when students can say, ‘No, you can’t come in my house,’ to a police officer, and when they need to allow them in,” she said.

Desprez also said fraternities have helped contribute to the reduced number of alcohol-related incidents in recent years by not serving hard alcohol at early parties.

Engineering junior Roy Ziv, member of the Delta Chi fraternity, said sober monitor training — required for all fraternity pledges — was useful in terms of preparing for a party.

“I thought it was very helpful,” he said. “It highlighted the importance of how we should split up sober monitors: some at the front door, some by the bathrooms or staircases, some roaming around the party. It showed us what to keep an eye out for, and what to do in the case of an emergency.”

Ziv also mentioned that his fraternity house has a water fountain and water bottle filler in order to keep people hydrated at parties.

“We are always exceeding the minimum number of sober monitors we should have,” he said. “We had our biggest party the other night. We’re supposed to have a minimum of five sober monitors, but I believe we had seven or eight because we understood the importance of keeping everyone safe and organized.”