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Beer for thought: Three things that administrators need to know about college drinking

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by Jake Byczkowski

As an alcohol speaker many people assume that college administration will bring me to their campus to help them fix an issue with their students. However, often times I find myself helping students with administrative problems. I’ve witnessed the effects of various preventative efforts from colleges and universities around the country, and from my experience many of the implemented methods do much more harm than good. Here are three things that administrators should understand and accept when confronting concerns about alcohol consumption on their campus.

1. “12 drinks is a typical Tuesday night”
College students can drink a lot of alcohol. This is no secret. But what the administration considers to be “a lot” and what college students consider to be “a lot” are two completely different things. In college I was once told to drink one drink an hour in order to maintain control, I remember thinking, “it’s going to take me 18 hours to pregame tonight.”

2. “Increasing campus police only encourages us”
I’ve seen many schools try to “ensure safety” by vamping the amount of campus security and increase the threat of punishment for drinking on campus. I see this affecting freshmen the most. The freshmen that drink will drink regardless. As a freshman, I watched people sneak handles of liquor into the dorms because beer was too big and bulky to sneak in, and because liquor had more alcohol per volume. On a weekend night, I watched my classmates take an enormous amount of shots in an attempt to “drink enough to last the night” because there was no guarantee that they could get more alcohol once they were out.

3. “We drink because it’s fun”
College is a transitional period for most of us. It is a time when we crave validation from our peers that what we are doing is right and good. We look for the support of our peers in just about everything we do. Students aren’t drinking because “all the cool kids are doing it,” but because it provides them with a comfortable and enjoyable social structure to belong.

To be clear, I am not condoning this type of behavior, nor should you. In order to effectively address a concern you need to completely understand what it is you’re dealing with. You can’t tell your students that drinking five drinks a night is too much and expect them to listen. Rather than taking authoritative action to punish students, work with them. Take that money and put it towards providing a free ride service on the weekends. Rather than teaching Resident Assistants to write students up, teach them to recognize emergency situations, and how to offer counseling to a student who may be concerned about a classmate.

Preach intervention, not punishment.

People experience their own punishment every time they drink too much, whether it’s getting the spins and vomiting, or waking up with a hang over. Yet they continue to drink. A mandated punishment is no different. If your concern is to ensure the safety of your students work with them, understand their experiences and stop policing.

In his keynote, Solo Cup Culture: Minimizing the Risks of an Alcohol-Soaked Campus Climate, Jake opens up the conversation about alcohol. He sheds new light on this topic and brings a modern twist to the discussion of harm reduction. Jake’s message is not that alcohol is bad; rather, the harm and danger that can come along with it is the problem. If you’re looking for an alcohol discussion that both professionals, and students can rally behind, consider bringing Jake to your campus.

Visit campuspeak.com/byczkowski to learn more.