Bi-College Alcohol Task Force Report


Table of Contents

Introduction

Student Culture

The Rhythm and Timing of Alcohol Consumption at Haverford and Bryn Mawr

Structural and Space Issues

Education

Oversight

Closing Statement

 

I. Introduction

The Bi-College Alcohol Task Force (hereinafter the ATF) was convened by the presidents and deans of Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges to address the alarming increase in cases of alcohol poisoning which the two campuses experienced during Semester I, 1996-97. While charged with looking into the causes of this increase, the ATF was asked to take a comprehensive look at our policies and practices with respect to alcohol and at the role which alcohol plays in the lives and culture of our students.

The members of the ATF are:

Renuka Babu BMC '98 Honor Board
Kristin Brinner, HC '97, JSAAPP (Joint Student-Administration Alcohol Policy Panel)
Sherry Y. Butler, Student Activities Coordinator BMC
Julia Epstein, Barbara Riley Levin Professor of Comparative Literature, HC
Steve Ferzacca, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, BMC
Zachary First HC '97, Customs
Sheenu Jalla BMC '97, Student Government Association
Greg Kannerstein, Associate Dean and Director of Athletics, HC
Chuck Heyduk, Assistant Dean, BMC (Co-Chair)
Ryan Therrell HC '97, Students' Council
Lisa Trefethen BMC '97, Customs
Steve Watter, Associate Dean of the College, HC (Co-Chair)

The ATF first met on February 3, 1997 to review the charge and set the stage for its work. The ATF met regularly throughout the months of February and March. A great deal of time and attention was focused on collecting data and soliciting input from as broad a cross-section of our two academic communities as possible. We wanted to hear from and heard from students, faculty, administration and staff. On a number of occasions, we invited key members of our community (those whose work brings them into direct contact with alcohol issues) to meet with us. These included:

The student members of the ATF met in a variety of formal and informal settings with students. They solicited feedback about student attitudes and practices through student leaders such as student government dorm representatives, members of Honor Council and Customspeople, asking a series of questions developed by the ATF. (see Appendix)

Steve Ferzacca and Julia Epstein obtained input from members of the faculty on both campuses about the role alcohol plays in the classroom and what affect alcohol has on the lives of faculty living on campus.

We also felt it would be instructive to hear from students and staff from institutions of higher education similar to ours. The students on the ATF contacted student government leaders and the faculty and administrators contacted deans or their designees from the following six institutions:

Amherst College
Bowdoin College
Princeton University
Wellesley College
Wesleyan University
Williams College

A common set of questions was asked of the students and deans (see Appendix), designed to get a sense of the role alcohol plays at the institutions above, trends with respect to alcohol, and efforts which have been made to address alcohol issues/problems. We asked the individuals with whom we spoke to send along copies of their alcohol policies and party policies for our review. Alcohol and party policies received will be kept on file, along with the minutes of all ATF proceedings.

Finally, the Task Force made a site visit to Princeton University, an institution which has given considerable attention to the issue of alcohol over the past decade. Four members of our group visited Princeton on March 26. Princeton dean Sandy Silverman generously developed a most useful itinerary for us, wherein we had the opportunity to meet with staff and students leaders actively engaged with alcohol issues there.

The ATF met a final time on Wednesday, March, 26 to summarize findings and make initial recommendations. A number of recurring themes, concerns and issues emerged during the course of our work which suggested the need for a coordinated, multi-faceted approach to addressing alcohol issues on our two campuses. As such, the ATF has reached consensus on a collection of recommendations and calls to action directed to the administration, student government and a wide range of campus groups and professionals in the following areas:

     
  • Student Culture and Norms Around Alcohol

     

  • Patterns/Rhythms of Student Drinking

     

  • Structural/Space Considerations

     

  • Education

     

  • On-going Oversight (The Future)


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II. Student Culture

Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges regard the abuse of alcohol as inconsistent with their missions as demanding academic institutions with long traditions of student involvement and self-government.

The Colleges are dedicated to ensuring a healthy and safe campus environment., to working with students to accomplish this, and to providing the guidance and resources that sustain an involving student life on campus. The colleges must safeguard students' right to learn and grow in an atmosphere free from the kinds of distractions, threat and coercion that can sometimes result from abuses related to the consumption of alcohol.


The ATF believes that some of the most powerful forces affecting drinking behavior and responses to it on our campuses stem from peer influence or, if you will, student culture. Students come to our two colleges with already formed attitudes, beliefs and practices with respect to alcohol. These are then challenged and further shaped by the unique cultures on our two campuses.

The alcohol policies at our two schools, in accordance with the Honor Codes, enjoin students to protect and care for one another. Students generally do an excellent job on this score. As part of student self-governance, students have developed their own means of enforcing and administering the alcohol policy. However, a whole set of norms for partying and drinking have grown up simultaneously with the alcohol policy and its use, and these common practices sometimes seem to have more centrality in student life than the alcohol policies and the goals they represent. Sometimes the activitites associated with these accepted patterns of partying and private drinking have resulted in the dangerous situations which gave rise to the call for an Alcohol Task Force.

Many variables contribute to a situation where dangerous practices and behaviors around alcohol have come to be tolerated.

These include:
1. the broadly-held notion of "work hard; play hard,"
2. Drinking with the express purpose of getting drunk,
3. a lack of knowledge/information about what constitutes dangerous drinking and the warning signs of alcohol poisoning or a developing alcohol problem,
4. confusion about both the letter and intent of the alcohol policies, resulting in a seeming inability or unwillingness for some to take the policy seriously. Others do not engage fully with the responsibilities inherent in these policies.

One factor which exacerbates the current situation is that students do not recognize consequences to problematic behavior around alcohol. The current situation must change. Change will occur in the student culture around drinking only if and when students want it to change and have support in creating meaningful change. Peer influence is the critical element here, with student leaders as the key players.

Recommendations:

1. Clearer expectations regarding alcohol and its use on campus must be communicated to students as soon after their matriculation as possible and regularly reinforced throughout their time at the Colleges. These clearer messages should, ideally, come from student leaders (HAs, Customspeople, HCOs, UCAs, SGA/Students' Council, Honor Council, Team Captains, JSAAPP, etc.). We cannot stress strongly enough the dangers inherent in and the unacceptability of drinking to the point of unconsciousness, alcohol poisoning or an inability to control one's actions. Steps should be taken prior to the beginning of the 1997-98 for student leaders and other community members (administrators and/or faculty), as deemed appropriate by the presidents and deans, to reach consensus on the precise message we wish to communicate in this regard and on a plan for effectively communicating that message.

2. Students also need to know that there will be consequences for failure to live up to these expectations. Such instances will be addressed by the bodies already empowered to deal with violations of community standards (Honor Council/Board and JSAAPP) and appropriate resolutions, including sanctions when necessary, imposed.

3. The serious consequences that result from alcohol abuse (ranging from loss of self-regard to injury to regretted sexual experiences to tragedy) must be recognized by students individually and collectively. Information about such adverse consequences should be incorporated into our alcohol education efforts (see below).

4. Student role models are important and currently not sufficiently utilized by our communities. Students look to student government, honor board, hall advisers, customspeople, team captians, UCOs and HCOs for indications of the norms of conduct and the consequences for inappropriate behavior. Community consensus on clearer guidelines for what it means to be a role model in general, and with respect to alcohol, in particular, should be reached and, in turn, communicated. At the very least, we should be able to increase the likelihood that such leaders will not be bad examples of the norms our community desires and help the incumbents of these key roles feel empowered to help their peers.


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III. The Rhythm and Timing of Alcohol Consumption at Haverford and Bryn Mawr

The ATF was able to identify a rhythm and timing that shapes the patterns of student "drinking" on the two campuses. The rhythm and timing of alcohol consumption, two separate, but related issues, hold the potential for unhealthy, if not dangerous, patterns of student drinking, and are probably central to the alcohol poisonings over the past academic year. We recommend three principal interventions:

1) the "disruption" of the rhythm of "drinking,"

2) the "disruption" of the timing of "drinking," and

3) the provision of activities for students during times that hold the potential for dangerous alcohol consumption among students.

1. The rhythm of alcohol consumption on the two campuses is ordered by the academic schedule of classes. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights are seen by students as times of the week available for drinking and parties. The Task Force repeatedly were told by all of those faculty, students, and staff of this overall rhythm. Students themselves described "problem drinking" as deviation from this rhythm -- additional drinking on nights other than the Thursday-Saturday pattern. This social fact indexes the "normalcy" of this rhythm of alcohol consumption for our students. By adjusting the academic schedule of classes, labs, and examinations, we might affect the oragninzing principle that shapes dictates the rhythm of student life at the colleges.

Clearly, more classes scheduled on Friday, and scheduled during morning hours, would probably reduce Thursday night drinking, and therefore, reducing the rhythm to a Friday-Saturday pattern that could lead to a harm reduction program that lessens the number of evening for drinking and parties, and does so with a structural feature. -- schedule of classes -- that already "makes sense" to students as an organizing force in their daily lives.

2. Another issue that the Task Force identified during its deliberations is the timing of alcohol consumption .The "times" before and after wet or dry events and parties appear to hold the potential for dangerous and unhealthy alcohol consumption by our students. The scheduling of activities or events during these "before" and "after" times may attract students out of their private spaces where apparently unhealthy drinking takes place. A coffee shop, student run perhaps, with music and other kinds of student performances scheduled during the 5:00 to 11:00 p.m. period may provide an additional element to the context of student life that offers a healthy alternative to drinking in the privacy of suites and rooms. This coffee shop would remain open into the very late night on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights as a healthy alternative to returning to rooms to continue drinking. Other events that "mimic" the parties that students value, but without alcohol (dances., performance art, music, etc.) could be scheduled at these times.

3. Alternative activities and some places to go other than dorm rooms and suites during these pre- and post-event times are recommended. At Haverford, the possibility of expanded lounges in residence halls was often mentioned by students. At Bryn Mawr, the desire for common gathering spaces beyond the Campus Center cafe was cited.

A revitalized and reconfigured social life needs to rise to the level of an institutional commitment.. The work to enhance social life in which the student activities coordinators, students governments, deans and presidents offices and many other ongoingly participate is often effective and is deeply appreciated by the community. Students cannot do this hard and important work on their own. New, creative ideas are important, but, in addition to this, our institutions need ,as one of the ATF members has so aptly stated, to "put our money where our mouth is." For example, substantial sums will be required for the common spaces noted above--which, if they are to be used, need to have an inviting atmosphere replete with good lighting and comfortable furniture, vcrs , stereos and and tvs. Money and carefula attention are needed for more good entertainment, more good food, for bus runs to Philadelphia which will allow for a return home after the last regularly scheduled commuter train or runs to Swarthmore and Penn to make taking advantage of the cultural, entertainment or recreational opportunities these institutions have to offer a more realistic possibility.

Students will continue to "work hard, play hard." However, it is our conviction that a combined student/institutional effort holds within it the greatest potential for having a positive impact on breaking the patterns and rhythms which have put students at risk.

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IV. Structural and Space Issues

The ATF recommends that a party notification system be developed and implemented on each campus by the appropriate student groups with the cooperation of college staff. The Bryn Mawr party policy now in place includes a notification process and the forms which implement it ( see appended materials). At Haverford, a party notification system should be developed that is consistent with JSAAPP and Students Council procedures. Security and Housekeeping are departments of the college that clearly require and deserve advance word of parties.

Information that might be useful in the notification procedures might include the time, place, hosts' names, number of guests expected, plans for set-up and cleanup, and perhaps a list of tips and reminders about tasks that should completed before, during and afetr parties. Guidelines about all sorts of factors, such as relevant laws, policies, liabilities, precedents, noise, alcohol, emergency procedures, expense reimbursement, etc. might be packaged with the

Because of the potential for assessing the scope and quality of the visible party scene, it seems important to monitor the performance of the party notification systems at least at the beginning. We should anticipate the existence of such a a notification system and the group which administers it to have a variety of significant effects on invisible or private parties and direct educational messages to hosts and participants in parties of both styles.

Programs to train party hosts regarding all aspects of their responsibilities should be established, and a means to insist that hosts obtain training instituted. Combination of student leadership, professional staff and past hosts might be best presenters. Videotaped presentations may be a helpful way to overcome time constraints. Written checklists might be distributed. Follow up reports on party and its successfulness are very important.

Campus leadership needs to address charging for cups, entrance or alcohol per se. This is clearly illegal and a practice which creates huge individual liability for hosts. Our communities need to work to find ways to balance the student perception that this is the only way for parties with alcohol to occur (since funding cannot come from the Colleges or student governments) against the very real dangers that this current practice represents.

We should be sure to address overcrowding of party spaces and if need be have space limits pertinent to the safety and social goals of parties. More or at least different spaces may need to established for parties. Seeking healthier party space (larger, more attractive, space for dancing) must be a means for fostering healthier parties and participation in social life that is not abuse focused.

It may also be valuable to reconsider definitions of public vs. private space, wet party vs. dry party spaces since space often shapes drinking behavior.

As mentioned above, leisure space should be created in those areas of the campuses. Areas should be conducive to positive interaction among students,

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V. Education

Presently, both Bryn Mawr and Haverford provide numerous alcohol education programs to inform students about the health risks, responsibilities, and liabilities that alcohol consumption can pose. These programs are presented by professional staff and by peer educators and are usually directed at incoming students. Throughout the school year, peer education and outreach services are available to upper-class students as well. Expanded and ongoing educational measures are necessary as part of a comprehensive effort to improve the campus atmospheres around alcohol use and misuse.

1. Successful education about alcohol should provide students with the information and experiences they need to make responsible decisions on whether to drink and, if so, how to drink responsibly. Information about the effects of alcohol on the body, health concerns, responsibility for one's own behavior, and one's responsibility to others should be addressed. It seems important to try help individuals consider the relevance of family history of addictions to their own decisions.

While students seem to have basic information on how to avoid overindulgence, the college communities should design and promote clear guidelines for students to follow in assisting one another when alcohol misuse necessitates it. Students should know the signs of intoxication and alcohol poisoning and be able to respond effectively to emergencies which may arise


2. Why students drink alcohol. While most students today come to college with significant experience drinking alcohol, students begin or resume drinking and develop drinking patterns under a variety of conditions and circumstances. To better educate our students and community about the effects of alcohol misuse, we should recognize the primary reasons students choose to drink. Among these are:

a. Peer pressure. Students often are introduced to alcohol by friends and acquaintances and are encouraged to drink as an "outlet."

b. Socialization. Drinking is a social vehicle for many students on college campuses. Drinking and smoking are part of the social scene and are an expected part of socializing in American collegiate culture.

c. Stress relief. By their own accounts, Bryn Mawr and Haverford students lead intense and stressful academic lives. Alcohol is used by many students as a stress reducer. Students use alcohol to relax and to buffer themselves from academic and other pressures.

d. Hooking up (sexual relations). Alcohol use is relied upon by many students as a sexual stimulant or facilitator of "hooking up.' While this behavior pattern of "one night stands" and "false courage" to make sexual contact with "no strings attached" is not a new phenomenon, it has resurfaced. In the worst cases, ruined friendships, regretted sex, or even sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, or unplanned pregnancy can result.

e. Celebration. A common method to acknowledge an occasion, alcohol plays a central role in the celebration birthdays, major accomplishments, or athletic victory.

f. Availability. Alcohol is readily available to most college students, and Haverford and Bryn Mawr are no different. Underage students are introduced to alcohol at large and small parties and in private residences.

g. Taboo. Some students drink because they have been discouraged or forbidden to do so by parents, family, cultural tradition, or school rules. Students can seem to overindulge sometimes just to prove a point, to feel empowered, to participate in a rite of passage from youth to adulthood.

h. Lack of Alternative Social Outlets. Often, opportunities for social activity are not looked upon as alternatives to alcohol centered events. Sometimes this is because the need for stress relief or distraction are just not addressed by alternative events. Often, alternative activities would be quite successful if their potential for fun and sociability were recognized by students. Careful design, ample advance notice, and adequate resources are essential to the success of events offering good alternatives to alcohol-centered parties. As the activities coordinators and social committees on each campus can attest, alternative events require at least the same amount of planning, hard work, and student enthusiasm as events with alcohol.


3. Responses to problems. Public Saftey/Security, health services , and the drug and alcohol counselors are invaluable components of the colleges support systems. Every effort should be made to provide staff members with the training, supervision and support necessary to be effective. It is imperative that Public Saftey/Security officers remain at the center of the response to emergencies and that students realize that Public Safety/Security personnel are there to assist them in a crisis. It is also imperative that students remain comfortable calling on Public Safety/Security for help, and that fear of disciplinary notice not undermine the generally positive relationship enjoyed by our officers with students and the college communities.

Clear expectations of what is expected of staff and close coordination among public safety/security, the health services staff and the deans is essential. Public Saftey officers have clearly indicated a desire to receive clear statements of the communities expectations for them to folow in the work. Advance training should be provided for those students, faculty and staff likely to participate in mediation, honor proceedings, deans panels, or similar activities in which educational messages or referrals about alcohol issues are likely to occur.


4. Impact of alcohol misuse on individuals and the college community. It is unclear whether there is any great change in the patterns or intensity of alcohol use or misuse at the colleges. It is quite evident, however, that the quality of life on campus, and sometimes for neighbors as well, is negatively affected by alcohol related damage and vandalism, accidents, disturbances, or poor conduct. Every effort must be made to prevent injury, emotional difficulty, and poor academic performance which is avoidable, by proactive education, by responding to those whose behavior is problematic, and by sensitizing the wider campus community to impact of alcohol misuse on families, fellow students, teachers, staff, and neighbors.

5. Curricular Relevance. When possible and appropriate, members of the college communities should consider including material that promotes alcohol education in regular and special academic offerings (e.g., as examples or components in social science, research methods, or gender studies courses), extracurricular opportunities, and community service programs. Administrrative officers, faculty leaders and student government might find it valuable to develop formal means of encouraging and promoting such activity within the broader educational efforts of the colleges.

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VI. Oversight

Recommendations:
1. ATF recommends the appointment of an on-going OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE (or advisory board) to monitor trends regarding alcohol use, to provide leadership and coordination to campuswide efforts to improve the climate surrounding alcohol use, and to make recommendations to appropriate existing campus officers and committees.

An oversight group should be established on each campus and coordination between the committees should be built into the structure from the start. Composition should be 5 or 6 members per campus. Students, faculty, administration and staff would be included. A pre-arranged method for choosing replacements should be established. The committee(s) would be appointed for a two (or three) year period. At the end of this time a decision on whether to maintain such a group will be made by the deans and presidents.

The oversight group would make regular reports to presidents, deans, student governments and appropriate student life committees. These reports should include recommendations, as necessary, for enhancing existing policies, procedures and practices related to alcohol use and abuse in the college communities.

It seems important that the oversight work through existing campus structures by consulting with student government leaders, deans and directors, faculty committees, etc. It would be valuable to establish an agenda and timetable both over the two year period and during the year for consideration of issues related to alcohol (with thoughts to plenary, student government changeover, budgeting cycles, etc.).

2. We recommend a formal SURVEY at each college, to be repeated regularly over the next several years, including items from the Core Institute Survey or some similar instrument, so that the results are readily comparable to findings on national trends and on patterns of use at various types of institutions.

Purposes:

a. To gather information on student behavior and viewpoints which can inform policy, educational efforts and clinical practice

b. To provide a basis for assessing trends in patterns of use and abuse, student attitudes, etc. over time

c. To heighten awareness of the individuals surveyed to the range of issues related to alcohol use and abuse in the college communities and to help them reflect on and to assess their own behavior, that of the groups to which they belong, and that of others on campus

d. To provide the basis for comparison of campus norms, views and policies to that at a range of other schools

3. OTHER DATA
The oversight group or its designees should work with campus services and appropriate student and faculty groups to regularly collect and assess data
1. on incidents of abuse on the campuses and their resolution,
2. on attempts to enhance the social life ( and coping with stress activities designed to help students cope with stress), and
3. on educational efforts related to alcohol use and abuse and their effectiveness.

4. DRUGS
Pehaps the colleges might consider assigning responsibility for monitoring patterns of drug use to same committee (or, if not to suggest close cooperation with groups responsible for doing so).

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VII. Closing Statement - Alcohol: A Community Concern

This report highlights areas where an increased emphasis on self- respect, tresponsibility for oneself, and the safety of the community must be sought. However, the special strengths these colleges bring to addressing concerns about alcohol use are probably more significant. The current alcohol policies, procedures, and community practices (with all their benefits and shortcomings) are firmly rooted in the student life philosophy of the two colleges. Student self-governance is the central organizing principle of student life on the campuses. Given the nature and traditions of our institutions, the well being and development of students will continue to be our most important concern. Self-governance is both a means and end. The processes we employ to better address alcohol use and abuse in the communities, and the goals we seek in so doing, must have self-governance as their focus.

As students, as their teachers, and as the staff of each college, we must individually and collectively commit ourselves to meeting our responsibilities to govern ourselves with respect to alcohol and to help others to do so. Every individual must be, in the words of the alcohol policies "responsible for their own well being, as well as the well being of others."

As self-governing student communities under the honor codes, with the leadership of SGA and SC, students must fully participate in the development, revision, explanation, inculcation, and enforcement of college policies and procedures related to alcohol use and abuse. Students must demand of one another that each and every student take responsibility for upholding the goals and methods that we as self-governing communities have adopted. At minimum "behavior that puts lives at risk, in terms of mental and physical health and legal liability cannot be condoned." (Alcohol policy) We must avoid the tendency to defer to those on JSAAPP, Honor Board or Honor Council, or to rely only on those most deeply concerned about alcohol use, or on those with family histories of alcoholism, or on those who have almost lost a friend to alcohol poisoning or an impaired driver. We must each govern our own behavior and be willing to confront together any problems that occur even though it can be challenging and anxiety producing to do so.

As faculty and professional staff we must be willing to take seriously alcohol use and abuse not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of the student community. We must energetically and determinedly educate students about alcohol use and abuse and we must support the student community in its efforts to make self-governance successful in this area. Those whose situation permits should promote curricular and extracurricular educational opportunities which address alcohol use and the related concerns of stress. Faculty and staff should be willing to serve as role models, advisers, resource people and, if necessary, as critics.

As a two-College community (in relationship to our neighbors and to Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania as well) we must commit ourselves to cooperation and careful ongoing dialogue with respect to the social life of students. Our social events (with and without alcohol) and the policies that shape them should be responsive to the needs of our neighbors and demonstrate respect for their rights.

As an institution, each College must rededicate itself to demonstrating that its care for students and efforts to promote their development extends far beyond setting rules or seeking to avoid liability.

We must provide safeguards that students can learn and grow in an atmosphere free from the kinds of distractions, threat and coercion that can sometimes result from abuses related to the consumption of alcohol. Each institution must ensure that individually or cooperatively we provide the services, facilities, educational programs and staff training that promote an environment where students can flourish as they engage the challenges of their academic work and as they experiment with the rigors of self-governance.

Every effort should be made to transform concerns about alcohol use and abuse into opportunities to better educate, encourage and support our students. We should retreat neither from our traditional belief in the value of student self-governance nor from our responsibility to shape a healthy and safe campus environment.

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This page maintained by Zach First.
Last updated 10/15/97.