Encouraging students to think more carefully about their
drinking habits, the University will begin a program this month to
train residence hall directors and University Health Service
staffers to help students determine whether they are drinking too
much.

Patrice Flax, coordinator of the University’s Alcohol and
Other Drug Prevention Program, said one of the goals of the
program, called BASICS, or Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention
for College Students, is increasing the number of qualified people
on campus that are available to discuss students’ alcohol use
with them.

Greg Merritt, associate director of University Housing, said
some of the University’s 28 residence hall directors will be
trained to hold counseling sessions with students, and the
remainder will be taught to identify troubled individuals and refer
them to such counseling. He said the program will aim specifically
to curb the amount of “heavy episodic drinking” that
occurs on campus.

“We’ll create an assessment tool to help us know how
(students are) drinking,” he said. The hall directors, many
of whom hold master’s degrees and retain permanent positions
within University Housing, will be trained to meet with students
for screening and counseling sessions that will last 50 minutes
each.

Merritt said BASICS is “another tool in the toolbox”
that hall directors have to help students with alcohol
problems.

Schools that already use the program include Ohio State and
Cornell Universities. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
which also uses the program, won an award for the changes that
BASICS produced on campus.

Some University students are skeptical that the program will
reduce drinking on campus.

Engineering freshman Adam Chin said he would encourage friends
with drinking problems to take part in the program, but said he
wasn’t convinced BASICS would be effective.

“I think it’s a step, but nothing will happen unless
the kids (who drink excessively) step up,” he said. Chin
added drinking is widespread throughout the residence halls, but it
isn’t something that disrupts his studies or his daily life
on campus.

Other students said they would never encourage friends to
participate in the program, fearing that the gesture would be taken
the wrong way.

Merritt said excessive heavy drinking is the single largest
public-health problem on college campuses. “There’s a
culture created that this is the time to explore. There’s a
sense that once you’re in college, (drinking) is almost a
rite of passage.”

“Lots of students who use alcohol don’t have an idea
of the impact to the others around them,” Merritt said. He
pointed out that heavy drinking can cause students to become loud
and disruptive in the evening, often distracting others and
interfering with homework and sleep. He said that students who
drink excessively and get sick burden their friends, who are forced
to care for them.

In addition to the BASICS program, the University has also
started a media campaign to educate students about the recent
changes in minor-in-possession laws that increase penalties for
students who violate probation.

Information will also be posted in residence halls to help
students realize that binge drinking is not as prevalent on campus
as it is perceived to be, Flax said. One of the posters reads,
“Sixty-one percent of U of M students have zero to four
drinks when they party.” Flax said there will also be an
informational website going up in October.

She said the website, which is to focus mainly on alcohol, will
be fun, interactive and informative. Flax said these initiatives
are part of the University’s new “social norming”
campaign that encourages students to discuss how much alcohol they
truly use.

“We’d like to have more conversation about what
really goes on weekends,” she said. Social norming programs
are already in place at large public universities such as Michigan
State University, University of Wisconsin, the University of
Minnesota and Ohio State.

Although residence hall directors will not begin to advertise
the BASICS program for some time, students seeking help may contact
Flax at 763 7808 or speak with their own hall directors regarding
the program.

Students may also call Counseling and Psychological Services at
764-8312.

 

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