A Council Discussion: Alcohol and Civility at
Dr. Judith Rodin: Let
me start by saying that there is certainly nothing new about drinking on
college campuses. What is new and different, and what is getting
extraordinary national attention, is the very significant increase in binge
Penn is not alone in this; you have only to open
a newspaper or a magazine to find headlines like Newsweek's "Drinking
and Dying: a death at MIT puts campuses on edge." They report that
in August a student at Louisiana State University died from binge drinking.
At MIT two weeks earlier a student died from binge drinking. Some five months
ago, a fire at North Carolina University in a fraternity house claimed the
lives of five studentsfour of whom, the coroner believes, were too drunk
to try to escape.
There have been many incidents across campuses
in America of riotsalcohol-related riotsin the last several months, including
two melees in September at the University of New Hampshire. Here at the
University we had several weeks in a row of alcohol-related assaults reported.
At the beginning of the year, a number of students were brought to HUP after
binge drinking in what I think really were near-death episodes.
The MIT event most surely could have been at Penn.
Investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health published a study recentlyPenn
was one of the institutions surveyed, but the data are national data so
I won't be able to comment on the Penn statistics in particularbut they
say that 44 or 45 percent of the students report binge drinking, which is
drinking more than five drinks at one time, usually quickly. Whether that's
a lethal dose or not depends on your weight and gender and a variety of
other health-relevant characteristics. But for some people, that is
a lethal dose. They report that it happens across all segments of university
communities, but the incidence is greater in fraternities and sororities.
Again, according to the Harvard data for a national sample including Penn,
84 percent of fraternity and sorority students report binge drinking50-some
percent who live in the dormitories and 40-some in off-campus housing.
We are, I think, facing what I believe is a life-threatening
set of events at the University. Students are abusing themselves by binge
drinking, encouraging one another to do it, and so abusing one another in
a serious wayand then demonstrating their inability to restrain themselves
in an increase in episodes of highly aggressive, alcohol-related assaults
that we are seeing escalate on campus.
I don't have an answer. There is no single solution.
There are many constituencies that are arguing crack down, and there are
other constituencies that are arguing get more help and support, both in
the residences and in the fraternities. We have talked, and many of you
have talked, about a variety of solutions. In this discussion you will hear
the wisdom of my colleagues, in terms of the thinking that has gone on and
the ideas that we have generated so far.
Today, the Massachusetts Legislature announced
that it will ban alcohol on all state campuses in Massachusetts. At the
beginning of the week, I received a letter from three international fraternitiesSigma
Nu, Phi Delta Theta, and Phi Gamma Delta, the fraternity at which the MIT
student diedsaying that they are recommending that presidents ask their
fraternities and sororities to go alcohol-free.
I am not here to propose solutions. I am fearful
for your safety. Last year you looked at me when you were worried about
the safety and security issues and you said, "Do something." And
we tried. This year, I am looking at you, the students in particular, and
I am saying, "Do something." Help us to figure out what to do.
There is no right answer. If we close down parties on campus, you may drink
in unsafe areas off-campus and come home at five o'clock in the morning,
so I'm not sure that's the solution either. We all need your help. Let's
do some collective and creative thinking together.
I work in the Office of Heath Education, a division of Student Health Services
here at Penn. My role is coordinator of alcohol and other drug education
programs on campus, and in that capacity I'm the advisor to the peer education
program , the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team, otherwise known as DART. I'm
also co-chair of the Alcohol and Other Drug Task Force with Barbara Cassel,
the Associate Vice Provost for University Life, and I am here representing
all of those capacities.
As we begin this conversation I have to echo much
of what Dr. Rodin has already said and I want to thank her for convening
this group. This is unique. I have the opportunity to talk with colleagues
who do alcohol-and-other-drug programming on college campuses not only here
in the Philadelphia area but also throughout the Ivies. And it is a remarkable
step that we take by sitting in this room this afternoon and discussing
this in this format.
At first glance it might seem that we take this
step because of the MIT and LSU incidents; but as Dr. Rodin said, we have
situations on Penn's campus that require that we do thisnot only
looking at what we have done but what we can do, what we need to do, to
move forward creatively. Our many different programs and initiatives echo
the efforts other people have made that have proved helpful to a certain
extent. But it's becoming clear to me that more needs to be done.
One thing I'd like to talk about is how we define
binge drinking, because in the education sessions that we have through DART
it can often become a sticky point: People use the term when someone goes
for a long time without drinking and then drinks a lotand that is certainly
one understandingbut the understanding that is used in research on this
is drinking five or more in a row for men, four or more in a row for women.
This afternoon what we're going to define as the problem, the thing that
is most troubling, is the consumption of large amounts of alcohol that puts
a student at risk for serious health problems and/or compromises their judgment,
causing them to act in uncivil ways, and/or be a target for someone else's
[Discussing strategies the U.S. Department of
Education suggests, she noted that in the late 'eighties, as a result of
the Drug-Free Schools Act and on D.O.E. funding, Penn like most campuses
created a task force to develop policies and programsbut most others disbanded
theirs once policy and programs were in place. Penn did not, and has received
national recognition for keeping the task force as a vehicle in which every
segment of the University can come together on a regular basis.
[On D.O.E. suggestions about resource allocation
she noted that Penn stands out in providing services;
yet, given fears that near-miss situations could become the next tragedy...]
So let us look at environmental strategies. We
have a wealth of social, recreational, community service, performing arts,
and other extracurricular activities. And yet, we often refer to them as
our "alternative programming." Alternative to what? Socializing
with excessive alcohol use is the norm? Then that is the environmental belief
that I want to challenge and I want us to challenge today. I want us to
consider a norm that is based on health, responsibility, and consideration
of one another and ourselves.
I'm Director of Police Operations. About two weeks ago I was awakened about
four-thirty, quarter-to-five in the morning, and it was one of the supervisors
from the Division of Public Safety, Penn Police, who told me that a student
had just been attacked by another student and had the entire back of his
head split open. Twenty-two stitches it took to put him back together. It
was touch and go at that point. The young student was taken to HUP emergency
room; he was obviously in the best hospital in the world he could be in,
and fortunately for him, there's a happy ending.
But, as Dr. Rodin said earlier, we could have been
MIT, we could have been the front page of the Inquirer the next day,
we could have been the lead story on Action News. That same weekend
there were four other incidents where students were attacked by fellow students.
The big problem last year was crime, namely armed
robberies. And as Dr. Rodin said, the community came to the University and
said, "Do something." As a result many, many resources were poured
into the University environmentadditional Spectaguards and police officers
were hired, and many resources across the University in addition to Public
Safety reacted. And the solution did not come from just Public Safety or
from the administration; in fact, the Undergraduate Assembly and GAPSA were
intensively involved in the solutions. Faculty and staff members started
to come to more safety presentations and, overall, the result was that it
wasn't just one entity that solved that problem. It was a community of people
coming together both on and off campus: landlords, business people and internal
Penn community members.
I think the same problem exists this time except
that the enemy, if you will, is not the outside. The enemy is within, which
is probably a little more puzzling to respond to. But I think that the solution
again is not one entity, but a multitude of types of people who can respond
and bring their specialties. The panel up here are going to talk from different
perspectives, and yet the same perspectiveand hopefully that will be the
same as from the student groups that will be working with us.
I'd like to state just briefly what Public Safety's
response has been to this year, basically starting at move-in Labor Day
weekend. The Penn Police tried to close down parties by around 2 a.m. We
are talking mostly about the off-campus parties, and let me explain to you
why we were doing that. Number one, the fraternity and sorority affairs
houses have always had a standing order that their parties will shut down
by 2 a.m.; so what was happening last year was that the parties were shutting
down on the campus and then people were going off campus to other parties.
Obviously there were some fears for people walking around compromised by
alcohol, leaving parties individually as opposed to in groupsat four, five,
six o'clock in the morning, believe it or not. So by closing the parties
down at 2 a.m. we did two things. One, we got the students to move en
masse, leaving the par-ties in groups instead of alone, and at a time
when augmented patrols are on duty. It almost looks like Veterans Stadium
opening out because, unbelievably, some of these houses were holding 500
to 600 students, not just Penn studentsPenn has become the choice location
for all different types of people to come party, not just Penn but Temple,
Drexel and Villanova, so we get to meet a lot of different students from
all over the Philadelphia area.
The second reason is that the West Philadelphia
community has implored the University community to look to their quality
of life. Frankly, they are tired of people waking them up at three, four,
five o'clock in the morning; they are tired of people becoming ill on their
porches or using them as bathrooms. [Neighbors] approached Glenn
Bryan from Community Relations, Carol Scheman's Office, and asked what we
could do. So there's a committee working on civility issues within the West
In addition, the Division of Public Safety recently
met with owners of all the restaurants and bars locallyLa Terresse, White
Dog, Smo-key Joe's, just about any entity that serves alcohol. We invited
the beer distributor who seems to be the choice beer distributor for the
off-campus parties, Springfield, who unfortunately didn't show up but we
are going to still try and have a conversation with them. We basically invited
these groups as partners, not as an accusation that they are the problem,
because, quite frankly, we don't really believe that they are the
problem. They at least have bartenders trained by TIPS to see when people
are intoxicated and to flag them and not to serve them; so in fact there
is more control within these establishments than there is at the off-campus
The second step was a meeting with all the presidents
of the fraternities last week at about 11:30 p.m. I wanted it to be at that
hour so that they could meet face-to-face with the supervisors who are there
when the parties are being shut down. Scott Reikofski set that up and Matt
Baker, president of the Interfraternity Council, was there. It was a total
success; there was a lot of recognition that as leaders in the Greek system
they could become leaders on this issueand actually help create change agents
within the Greek system which could spill over to the other members of the
student community. I know the UA has also met with President Rodin and they
are also part of the solution.
Police officers have expressed to me the horrors
that they have seen in the last couple of weeks, and their fear of ever
having to to take a student to the hospital and have him or her pronounced
dead. To have to call those parentsthere are people in this room who have
had to do that for other reasons in the past, and I don't think any of us
want to do it because someone either drank to excess or became involved
in alcohol-related behavior that ended up being criminal behavior. There
are several students who have been arrested in the last couple of weeks
on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to aggravated assault and other
charges from the District Attorney's office. I think those students, whether
they were the victims who ended up in the hospital, or are now going to
be the victims for the rest of their life because they have a criminal record,
will tell you that no one went out that night intentionally trying to alter
their lives. But lives were altered.
Fortunately no one has totally, finally, ended
their chances for waking up tomorrow and making better choices. And hopefully
we won't have to meet that kind of problem in the future. I think we can,
as a group, end this problem just as we took control and brought measurable
changes last year to the crime problem.
Dr. Ilene Rosenstein:
I'm the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, which is a department
within the division of University Life, and I was asked to speak to you
about what we see at Counseling and Psychological Services, and what kind
of interventions we've done and believe we should do more of.
Just to give you a pattern, we have about 2500
students who come in as individuals or couples for some kind of counseling
during an academic year. The primary concerns that most of them present
are actually academic.
We have a question on the problem checklist that
asks "Are you concerned about the consequence of drug or alcohol use,
self or other?" In 1996-97, 16% of those students who came in put "some
to severe concern" about that ,with 3% putting they were "very
concerned" about their alcohol use. In 1997, meaning July 1 to yesterday,
10% came in saying they were "very, very concerned." However,
when you look at those stats, 50% are concerned about someone else
who is using alcohol, not themselvesa boyfriend, a girlfriend, a roommate,
someone they live with, someone who is in their fraternity or sorority.
Only 20% were concerned with their own drinking and identifying it as a
The clinicians' perceptions were much different.
Substance abuse, or substance usage, was seen as interfering with what we
call developmental taskspicking a major, career decisions, social connections,
being able to have ongoing relationships, academic achievement, and social
skills. Few of them had clinical diagnoses of actual substance abuse or
alcohol dependency. If that was given, it was probably graduate students
who gave it. Last year we only had two people who were hospitalized for
recovery. We have a small group, a subgroup of students who've come in and
said they feel very naive about their drinking. They don't remember what
happened to them on a certain night... they have black-outs, they end up
in places and they're not sure how they got there. Some are concerned that
they experienced something sexual, either date rape or some kind of inappropriate
sex without consent. Some have woken up with black eyes, or other kinds
of thingsnot knowing if it was done by their boyfriend, who was equally
drunk, or if they fell; and no one can tell them what happened.
The type of substance use in rank order are: alcohol,
marijuana, cocaine, steroid abuse, speed, mushrooms, ecstasy, or prescriptions
that are prescribed for somebody else (mostly antidepressants like Prozac)
or diet pill abuse.
Last year we saw a real growth in consultation.
Questions came from faculty and staffand this is including residentspeople
saying, "I'm not sure what kind of abuse exactly, but I need help on
how to confront it." Students called, asking "Is this a
problem?" And we had numerous parents calling, saying they were amazed
at the amount of drinking their child, and their child's Penn friends who
came home with them over break, were indulging in.
We collaborate with many different departments
on psychoeducational workshops. We do trainings with RAs, GFs, peer educators,
administrators and faculty. We find that more faculty are asking our specialists
on alcohol and drugs to come and do class presentations, particularly in
schools that are helping professions. And more students are coming in asking
for materials on alcohol and drugs, for papers that they're writing or even
for dissertations. We have various groupsby the far the most popular is
Adult Children of Alcoholics. We have many students whose parents are
children of alcoholics. We have a care group which is a mandatory assignment
group mostly coming from the Office of Student Conduct. And what's been
concerning for Marilyn Silverberg, who runs the group, is that many of those
students who come for the alcohol assessments are not the people who are
having a problem. They've been caught walking across campus holding a can
of beer, which may be an infraction, because they are underage, but they're
not having alcohol problems in the way that we may expect.
One last thing is the ER count. Just for this year
to date we've had 11 contacts already. The average age is 19, with the range
of 18 to 24, and 72% are male. One was a graduate student. What brought
them to ER? 18 shots of vodka in two hours, a 20-year-old who did 13 shots
of tequila and beer, are typical examples.
I'm Assistant Director of Risk Management. After hearing everything that
we've heard, I'm going to be the one person here who is going to argue that
we ought to crack down, and we ought to crack down hard. The unfortunate
thing that I've seen here at Penn in my ten years, and also living in this
community for the last eight, is that I haven't seen either an increase
or a decrease in the number of these incidents. I have yet to see any hard
data that suggests that this is now a suddenly expanding problem. I would
suggest to you that it has become more the flavor of the month in the media,
and that we've been dealing with these issues for a very long time. The
dramatic problemthe one we've always had and I think our student activities
people will tell you, will show usis that if we have activities, and alcohol
is not involved, our students won't come. I think that's true on the undergraduate
level, I think that's true with respect to GAPSA events, I think that's
true with respect to any employee events, and that the only way to really
change that is to change the culture. That would be my position.
Dr. Helen Davies:
I'm here as one of the faculty who lives in the residential system; I live
in the Quad and during Spring Fling I have trouble with the puddles of vomit,
and that's very disturbing. This year I have not seen quite as many beer
cans, beer bottles, empty bottles of alcohol around as I have in the past,
and I'm looking at this a little hopefully. I know that within the Quad
system right now, the assistant deans are doing a tremendous job, together
with the groups that come and talk about alcohol abuse, and this seems to
be having some effect right now. One of the things that was mentioned that
I feel most keenly is the particular vulnerability when women have drunk
a lot, and the men they are with have drunk a lot, and we do see sexual
abuse and rapeand these are issues that need to be brought to the fore so
that we can do something about it. And the man on my right [Mr. Jasner]I
don't know him, but I'm agreeing with him more and more.
I'm President of Sigma Alpha Mu, and I'm here representing the Interfraternity
Council. I understand everyone's looking at me because all of the reports
about LSU and MIT are related to fraternities, and I understand that we
shoulder some of the blame. I wouldn't suggest that's completely unwarranted.
But at the same time I'd like to stress what Ms. Rush said, that we have
an elaborate system of distribution at our parties and all our bartenders
are TIPS trained. Our parties are pretty much as safe as we can possibly
make themwe've put in a lot of effort to ensure that.
I won't specifically comment on any changes until
I've heard concrete suggestions, but I think what's very important here
is that we need to avoid an adversarial system where it becomes the ad-ministration
against the students. I know the art-icle on that in the D.P. scared
me, as president of a house, liable for whatever goes on there, and it scared
just about everyone I've spoken to about it, because of its references to
the LCB. I speak out of personal experience. Last year I had two disciplinary-related
incidentsone of them dealt with through the Office of Student Conduct, and
one through the LCB. And I think we should utilize the Office of Student
Conduct as much as possible. [Laughter.]
In October, a number of Penn students broke into
my house, and assaulted a number of my housemates. Instead of going to the
police, we dealt with it through the Office of Student Conduct and these
students were punished accordingly, yet they avoided having a criminal recordbecause
the Office of Student Conduct, unlike the LCB, looks out for the best interest
of the students and they realize that, with the exception of a heinous offense,
like the one Ms. Rush alluded to where the kid needed 20 stitches in his
head, it's best to try to avoid giving any students here at an Ivy League
institution a criminal record as much as possible. But then also in March
I was one of the 33 students at the Palladium the night the LCB raided it.
I'll tell you all honestly that I have been subpoenaed and tomorrow I have
to go to court to testify for the State of Pennsylvania and, by the advice
of my lawyer, I have to plead my fifth amendment rights to ensure that I
can be a lawyer if I want to one day.
We can go out any night and give 5,000 minors citations
and ruin their lives. I don't think that should be our goal. I think that
we should try to come up with some other system. In the [D.P.] article
the owner of Cavanaugh's was quoted as saying something like "They
might raid my bar and catch me serving to a minor and punish me for that,
but that's going to do nothing to curb the binge drinking that's going on
at the party down the street."
I think we need to try to stop the problem; in
order to stop the problem we need to address the reasons, not why minors
drink necessarily, but why people drink excessively. Without addressing
that fundamental point anything else we try to do in terms of punishment
or anything else is fruitless. I hope we can work out a compromise that
solves the problem through a means other than creating a fearful environment
on campus. We don't want students walking around afraid of everything they
do. I don't know anyone who is looking to drink excessively to the point
of creating a problem for themselves or anyone else; and I don't think that
we should view the student body in that way.
I have two points to make. One is about health and responsibility: that
it's important for the University to continue to look at this as an issue
of health and responsibility, not as a moral or legal question because drinking
is certainly not the problem; the problem is abuse, or too much drinkingand
insofar as we care about the values of a free society, I think that with
that goes responsibility and that's where we should be putting our efforts.
Further, a crackdown is simply not practical and pushing the problem underground
will probably make things worse, but that's an opinion. The undergraduate
experiencein loco parentis asideis really about learning and growth,
and the University has a real role to play in providing that sort of environment.
The second point is just to say that the Provost's Residential College proposal
is really excellent and comes at a very good time. I was a member of a similar
residential living arrangement in the late 'eighties when I was in college,
and it was really wonderful for giving us a sense of responsibility for
the environment and for one another. I think that could begin to solve some
of the problems.
Binge drinking has been a hot topic around campus. It's also been a hot
topic among my friends. We all have personal experiences: I don't know how
many times I've heard a friend say, the morning after, "I'm never drinking
again." I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing, because they
got to the point where they got so sick that they made an absolute statement
like that. I still can't get over the 18 shots in two hours, that I just
heard here. And I'm just wondering how many repeats you getI mean how many
people have 18 shots in two hours and wind up in the hospital again?
When I first started driving it was a really icy
winter up in New Jersey and my father took me out to a parking lot after
a big ice storm, and we kept getting into skids on purpose, just to see
how to get out of the skid. I think it's kind of similar with drinking:
people are going to feel around and try to see what it's like, but we have
to find some way to get them to know without going to such an extreme. People
are going to experiment; I know in European countries people have glasses
of wine very often with dinner while growing up and they know what it's
like. It's not like that here, and we know people are going to drink, people
are going to experiment, so we have to have some kind of control of the
environment. As Mike said, with the Greeks you have the ability to kind
of educate. We have the ability to give mandatory DART sessions and education
sessions and support networks. As Vicki said of the College Houses, support
networks are very important. I know that the IFC is bringing in a speaker
[who is] a recovering alcoholic.... I've had a lot of very useful dialog
with Kate Ward-Gaus and the UA would like emphatically, with the help of
the administration and the rest of the University community, to address
this problem possibly with some kind of day-long educational event.
I'm President of DART, the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team. DART is a volunteer
student organization and part of the Office of Health Education. Through
workshops, we facilitate small group discussions encouraging students to
make educated, responsible, and safe decisions concerning their alcohol
consumption. We hope to curb the excessive drinking of alcohol that occurs
at Penn. We ask students to talk openly about decision-making and peer pressure,
hoping they can recognize their personal limits and goals, and the need
for personal responsibility. We want to ensure that students can recognize
the medical risks that accompany alcohol consumption and know exactly where
to seek medical treatment. It is to our benefit that we have emergency treatment
Previously DART has focused on the individual,
challenging his or her decisions and actions regarding alcohol use, but
recently we have shifted our focus to emphasize group responsibility, challenging
students to think about their interaction with friends and hall-mates in
situations that involve drinking. We are a great resource for information
on alcohol first aid. Although we are concerned with the recent hospitalizations
associated with alcohol abuse, we do see these numbers as progress that
students are taking responsibility and are actively seeking medical attention.
Also, DART workshops are mandatory for first-year residence halls and fraternity
and sorority pledge classes. We are effective at reaching students that
are particularly struggling with the increased freedom and increased responsibility
students face in entering college as a whole, or entering the Greek system
As peer educators, and as students, we share the
concerns of excessive alcohol consumption on campus. We have targeted what
we are considering to be the high-risk groups through our freshman and pledge
workshops. But there is a population of older students that we do not reach.
They do not attend our workshops and our workshops are not designed for
them. Although we agree that policy and enforcement are necessary in dealing
with this problem, we feel that education is crucial and integral, but must
also be coupled with students that are willing to take personal responsibility
I'm the Assistant Dean in Residence in Hill College House and I'm glad to
have the opportunity to congratulate and thank Sharon and DART for the pivotal,
vital, and excellent work that they have been doing. DART is one of the
best resources available to us in residence for trying, particularly in
a largely first-year house, to reach students with a healthy message about
alcohol. We're really glad you're here.
I'm also really glad that we're all here.
I wanted to say at the beginning that, boy, I don't want to make that call
to parentsand we at Hill House have faced, in the past, situations where
there but for the grace of I-don't-know-what, we could have easily been
MIT. We had a situation in the not-too-distant past that was very similar
to the situation at MIT, and the difference, as I understand it, is that
the MIT student went home and closed his door and died. At Hill House, the
student happened not to close his door, and got to the hospital,
and then went on to stop breathing and went on a respirator. And lived.
So we're very concerned about binge drinking, and
about the very real risk of death for students, and also about their compromising
of their futures in other ways. But I do want to reiterate what's been said
also about other risks to studentsto their academics, to their being susceptible
to violence, as perpetrators of violence and as victims of violence, victims
of rape and other kinds of assaultstudents who are just making bad choices
under the influence.
Many of those choices, we're left trying to help
them sort out in the morning because they don't remember. I'll agree with
Ron Jasner, this is an issue we've been working on for a very long time
and we do not have the answerand we really need students to help us find
the answer. I think I might sound as if I'm disagreeing with Ron Jasner
on another point, but he's used to that: I'm not sure about, and I'd want
to explore what the idea of "cracking down" means.
I wanted to talk a little about the context and
the role of the RA and the GF in residences in this dynamic. Our fabulous
RAs and GFs are walking a very difficult line in residence today. In the
case of alcohol we depend on them to be educators, we depend on them to
provide alternative programming, but the most important thing that I depend
on from my staff is that they will be a friend and that their students will
trust them and will come to them when there is a problem. The other part
of their role, though, is that they are asked to, required to, uphold the
law. When they know of underage drinking in the residence, they're to put
an end to it. And they do put an end to it, as evidenced by these huge parties
that are springing up past 40th Street where we have no control: there's
no teachable moment west of 40th Street. So I worry about Massachusetts,
about the ban of alcohol, and it'll be interesting to see what that leads
to. Since the tightening of the liability laws towards the end of the 'eighties,
I have seen the drinking of students on this campus pushed further and further
underground and farther and farther away from where we can have any impact,
so "cracking down" poses a very real concern for me.
I celebrate the work that staff members are able
to do because they're able to build the support of students. I also celebrate
the instances in which students can impress upon their peers to behave responsibly.
And I think, in the end, that's what we're going to be depending on.
Entered in the Record by the Chair of the Council's
Student Affairs Committee
On Alcohol Consumption: Help Each Other Avoid
Prior travel plans make it impossible for me to
join you in today's deliberations about alcohol consumption and incivility
at Penn. I do, however, appreciate the opportunity to make a few remarks
about this issue from my perspective as the Chairman of the Student Affairs
Committee and as a practicing psychiatrist.
We on the Student Affairs Committee have been very
concerned with the adverse con-sequences of excessive drinking at Penn,
both on and off campus. We have heard from all sectors of the Penn community
about the extent, nature and consequences of excessive drinking, including
the all-too-frequent occurrences of accidental overdose, sexual and physical
aggression, property damage and interpersonal violence. We have proposed
that the University Council seriously address these concerns, and today's
discussions fulfill our committee's first and foremost recommendation: to
create a broad dialogue about problem drinking at Penn. Recognizing and
framing a problem is an indispensable first step to finding solutions.
But what, if anything, is to be done about excessive
drinking in and around Penn? To begin with, we need to establish who is
responsible for doing what about the issue. This is far from obvious. Students
attend college not only to master academic subjects and earn degrees, but
also to become socialized into the world of modern adulthood. In our society,
this includes learning to consume alcohol responsibly (otherwise known as
"holding your liquor"). This unwritten curriculum is being taught
in frat houses, student apartments, local bars and wherever else students
go to have fun. Alcohol is an incredibly easy way to relax, relieve tension,
fraternize, and alter one's consciousness. And it is extremely available,
even for students who are "underage." So, for the time being,
drinking alcohol is an integral component of college life. This is not likely
to change much, even if strict prohibition laws were passed and enforced.
What could change, however, are the standard responses
of the entire community to instances of excessive drinking, particularly
those which clearly, negatively affect others. At the level of student social
events, all forms of binge drinking, including "chugging" and
playing games to increase alcohol consumption, should be actively discouraged.
These are simply dangerous behaviors with huge risks associated with them.
Students themselves should be pressuring each other to refrain from binge
drinking. If fraternities and other sponsors of events where alcohol is
consumed cannot effectively reduce these reckless activities on their own,
designated monitors should be given even greater authority than they have
to disband the parties.
Students who are noted to be binge drinking should
be required to attend counseling sessions to help them stop drinking. Moreover,
their parents should be notified of this, and their close friends should
be given instructions for observing their alcohol consumption. Often, it
is the pressure of peers that helps problem drinkers to stop. Currently,
there is inadequate follow-up to instances of binge drinking (and its sequelae)
unless the student has broken a major code of conduct. This must be changed
in such a way as to emphasize the concern of the entire community for the
health and well-being of the student in question.
At the level of direct instruction, it is my opinion
that the University should ask all students to read and discuss books like
DrinkingA Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. This could be a part of
the freshman orientation program, and it could be made a requirement for
individuals and organizations who demonstrate excessive drinking. The activities
of peer educators in the DART and FLASH programs should be further expanded
to target specific sites where high rates of binge drinking occur.
In a recent teaching session I held with medical
students about the ethical aspects of intervening with peers who are adversely
affected by alcohol, a student recounted how a college friend of his, who
had been known to drink excessively, was killed in his car after
leaving a frat party. The student expressed deep remorse and regret for
not having made more of an effort to help his friend contain his impulses
to drink. I mention this story to underscore what is perhaps my most important
point today: that binge drinking at Penn is a largely social phenomenon,
and that students must make even greater efforts to help one another avoid
the harm and disaster which can result from it. I encourage the students
present here today to take a leadership role in creating a true community
of concern which actively dissuades people from drinking themselves into
--Anthony L. Rostain, M.D.
Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, December
16, 1997, Volume 44, Number 16