In a laudable attempt to curb student alcohol abuse on campus, the University Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program and the Inter-Cooperative Council sponsored a conference, Campus/Community Conversation: Reducing Harm from Alcohol, last Saturday. Participants at the conference brainstormed several feasible solutions to dangerous drinking practices at the University. However, participants also advocated strictly enforcing drinking laws and passing city ordinances to restrict students’ access to alcohol. Ann Arbor and the University should refrain from such measures, as they would only drive binge drinking underground – increasing the risk of harm.
The conference, which was open to anyone from the Ann Arbor community, was the start of a five-event-long series funded by a grant from the Department of Education. The day-long event featured speeches by state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) and Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje. The goal of the conference was to work toward changing abusive drinking practices. Indeed, participants generated several realistic ideas. These suggestions included establishing a 24-hour hotline for alcohol-related problems and creating more widely publicized, substance-free activities around the University on nights and weekends. These ideas developed at the conference could play a significant role on campus in preventing alcohol abuse.
A number of troubling suggestions, however, were also made. One worrisome proposal was demanding more state funding to increase these patrols. State funds have already paid for additional police patrols in student neighborhoods before two home football games this year. But using state funding to stringently enforce drinking laws on a college campus – especially before football games – would do little to prevent alcohol abuse. Patrolling the community would foster more problem drinking because students would choose to drink inside their homes – where binge drinking can have dangerous consequences. A similarly discouraging suggestion was that landlords should be held responsible for drinking that happens on their property.
Another suggestion made at the conference was to pass city ordinances that limit cut-rate drink specials at bars. Currently, students paying for drinks in bars drink less and are more likely to receive medical attention if they drink too much. Prohibiting drink specials would merely encourage students to “pre-party” by downing a dangerous number of drinks before going out.
Substance abuse does not stems from the source of the alcohol; if people want to get drunk, they will. The community would do better top pursue more educational tactics to discourage binge drinking than trying to limit alcohol sales and consumption. Community conversations and other grassroots efforts are key to raising awareness about and finding a solution to drinking issues at the University. Participants in future discussions should focus on practical, comprehensive suggestions – not a misguided policy of prohibition.