No doubt most parents are aware that high-risk drinking is an unfortunate part of campus culture today, a major concern for colleges nationwide. The issue is of particular concern at Iowa, where dozens of bars open to minors are within walking distance, and rates of high-risk drinking are above the national average.
Working together with parents, University officials are hoping to change the drinking culture on the Iowa campus. Parents can help their children make smart choices about alcohol even before they get to campus. And when students arrive in the fall, they will find several new initiatives aimed at reducing drinking rates.
“We take this issue very seriously,” says Phillip Jones, vice president for student services and dean of students. “We’re addressing it through education, as well as through sanctions.”
Parents can shape students’ choices about alcohol by sharing their expectations with students before sending them off to college, says Angela Reams, director of Student Services Campus and Community Relations, a University office committed to reducing the harmful effects of high-risk drinking. She says parents can promote healthy behavior by encouraging students to join one of more than 400 student organizations available on campus. She also urges parents to ask their children to remain up-front with them about alcohol use while they’re away at college.
“Parents are an important ally,” says Sarah Hansen, associate director of Student Health Services and the coordinator of Health Iowa, the education branch of health services. “I know parents will do anything they can to keep kids safe, and we want to work together with them.”
One of the new strategies the University is adopting to combat the party culture is AlcoholEdu, an online course that all entering undergraduates will be required to take this fall. The three-hour course aims to help students make smart choices about alcohol. It features realistic examples, personalized feedback, and a final knowledge test. Students must complete the course by mid-October to register for spring classes.
“The message of AlcoholEdu is no matter where you go to college, alcohol is an issue that affects students,” Hansen says. “We want to make sure they understand early on the dangers that high-risk drinking can pose.”
Another strategy is a new education campaign with the message “You can overdo anything.” Posters, which will be posted on Cambus and in residence halls, depict students carrying super-sized boxes of products like macaroni and cheese. Text below the photos reads, “Overdoing anything—especially alcohol—takes all the pleasure out of it.” Students are encouraged to “Keep it fun. Keep it to a few.”
Also beginning this fall, students who violate alcohol policies in the residence halls could face steeper penalties. Fines will be similar to the court-imposed charges for underage alcohol possession, which range from $200 to $500. Alcohol is not allowed in the residence halls, even if those 21 or older are present.
Fines will be higher for students hosting a party than those who are visiting friends in a room where alcohol is present. The fine will appear on students’ U-bills, and the money raised will go toward alcohol education programs.
The numbers of students violating the alcohol policy has spiked in recent years, says Kate Fitzgerald, assistant director for residence life. Residence hall officials were concerned for the safety of the students who drink, as well as for the students who experience the negative consequences of other students’ drinking. Research shows stiffer penalties reduced the number of alcohol violations on other college campuses, she says.
“If this is successful, we’ll never actually have to fine anyone,” Fitzgerald says. “It will deter them from drinking.”
With dozens of alcohol-free activities offered on weekend nights, students can catch a movie at the Bijou, play a game of pickup basketball at the Field House, or cheer on the Hawkeyes at a home game. A $30 million renovation to the Iowa Memorial Union will also increase student life opportunities, Jones says.
A new wellness center and tennis facility also are in the works.
“There are many opportunities for students to engage in positive, wholesome activities,” Jones says. “And we’ll continue to vigorously promote programs and activities to give students alternative things to do.”
by Madelaine Jerousek-Smith