Like many college women her age, LSA freshman Erin Dronen has spent several nights in her residence hall pulling friends’ hair back while they threw up after a night of excessive drinking.
More students believe alcohol use on campus is a problem than those who don’t, according to the 2001 Student Life Survey, conducted by the University Substance Abuse Research Center and MSInteractive. About 86 percent of survey respondents said drinking is a major problem at the University.
The alcohol problem is not getting better over time, and for women, binge drinking has increased by 9 percent since 1999.
“I think it’s definitely a big social epidemic, but not necessarily in a bad way,” LSA freshman Sarah Thompson said. “It’s socially acceptable.”
The survey mirrors a national study conducted simultaneously by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health on student alcohol abuse.
But some students do not need survey data to understand that binge drinking is common at the University.
“There have been quite a few girls spending the night laying in a bathroom stall,” Dronen said.
Last fall, the University created a position called the Alcohol and Other Drugs Campaign Initiatives Coordinator, currently held by Patrice Flax.
“The position came about because there was a binge drinking committee a few years ago that did a very comprehensive report on campus participation in alcohol use, particularly on the part of younger students,” Flax said.
The University decided there was a need to create a full time position for the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse, Flax said.
By looking at the Student Life data, Flax said she is going to begin focusing on targeting the student communities with the highest rates of binge drinking.
“We’ll continue working with the Greek community, and I want to try to do some focus work on three residence halls, one of them being Mary Markley,” Flax said. “But, this is still in the early planning stages.”
Flax explained Markley is known to have a large number of binge drinkers, and a concentrated effort on prevention and treatment for binge drinking could be helpful there.
No one knows exactly why some residence halls, such as Markley, have more drinkers than others, but some people do have a few theories.
“Some speculate that because in the past some halls have had living-learning communities; friends sign up for those because they know they’d be together, and those people are continuing the activities they did in high school together, such as binge drinking,” Flax said.
Thompson said she has talked with friends about the perception of Markley as a residence hall with a lot of student alcohol use.
“It’s not necessarily that more people drink at Markley, but more people are caught drinking at Markley,” Thompson said.
“There are more experiences with first-time drinkers. I live in West Quad, and there are just as many people who drink here, but there are a lot of sophomores and older people who know how to hide it and know how to handle themselves so they don’t get caught.”
One campus stereotype is that students living in fraternity or sorority houses binge drink more than students who do not, but the numbers in the Student Life survey do support this idea.
Seventy-six percent of Greeks reported binge drinking recently while only 50 percent of all undergraduate students did.
“I think as far as frat parties go … they’re responsible for providing parties on campus, but they don’t necessarily drink more than other people,” Thompson said. “When you have parties you have alcohol. They just happen to have more parties.”
Panhellenic Association President and LSA junior Monica Rose said she planned to use the Student Life Survey results to bring about positive change.
“I meet with the chapter heads each week. This week we discussed the results and how we want to use them to establish some type of educational program, especially something geared more toward the women,” Rose said. “I think we need to focus on the more personal aspect of it and get the message to maybe hit home a little more.”
Rose said Panhel and the Interfraternity Council will try to work together on some of these educational events, but the planning is still in the very early stages.