Tom Rocklin, interim vice president for student services, expresses the complex problem in simple terms:
“We have too many students drinking way too much on too many nights,” he says. “College students drink—that’s nearly universal—but too many of our students are drinking to excess.”
The University of Iowa, like many colleges across the country, is seeing an increase in high-risk alcohol consumption among students. But, as Rocklin notes, the Iowa student body has recorded a much sharper increase in recent years.
A 2005 study commissioned by the UI Office of the Provost found concerning trends regarding binge drinking, or drinking five or more servings of alcohol (four or more for women) in one sitting. Nearly 80 percent of seniors and close to 70 percent of first-year students reported binge drinking at least once in a two-week period; the national average for all college students is about 47 percent.
Rocklin points to several factors involved with Iowa’s higher numbers: the density of bars located near campus (the number has increased nearly tenfold in the past 30 years), ease of access to alcohol by minors (19- and 20-year-olds are legally allowed to enter bars in Iowa City), and a generally high drinking rate among Iowans (suggesting that some students’ drinking habits are established before arriving on campus).
The biggest concern for the University, Rocklin says, is student safety.
“When students drink to excess, they put themselves at risk for exploitation, accidental injury, and violence,” Rocklin says. “As a university, we have a responsibility to promote health and safety for our students. We are educating them for the future, and we want them to leave here with health and safety habits that will serve them well.”
While acknowledging the inherent challenges of changing a cultural problem, Rocklin emphasizes that the University is committed to helping reduce the harmful effects of high-risk drinking among its students, listing University actions developed or planned to date. These include:
Other ideas being discussed, Rocklin adds, include “dive-in” movie nights at the recreation and wellness center scheduled to open in 2010, shuttle service to Coral Ridge Mall, creation of a campus bowling alley, and scheduling more large-scale concerts.
The PAS will continue to meet and brainstorm ideas throughout the year, and subcommittees are expected to recommend nearly a dozen concrete suggestions this fall. Wallace Loh, executive vice president and provost, serves as PAS co-chair along with Iowa City mayor Regenia Bailey, and says he is optimistic about what can be accomplished.
“The Partnership for Alcohol Safety brings to the table people who otherwise would not be together—the athletics director, the area police chiefs, the provost, students, bar owners, faculty members, local newspaper publishers, emergency treatment center personnel—and that alone is huge,” he says. “Let’s do what we can.”
by Sara Epstein Moninger