Following reports of students engaging in binge drinking on campus, the University decided to enter a thirty-college project started by Dartmouth College called the National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP). This project will allow colleges to share information about attempts to limit high-risk drinking on each of their campuses. The University has also decided to implement five different experiments on campus to see the effects they might have on binge drinking.
“We thought that if there was the prospect of impacting this intransigent problem, then we should try to do that,” Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley said. “We decided it was important enough and enough of our students were at risk for serious injury and health related issues and so forth that we should really see if we could tackle the problem somehow.”
This decision was made after a survey showed that 57 percent of Wesleyan students reported instances when they engaged in high-risk drinking. This is larger than the nation-wide average of 54 percent and the average rate of the University’s peer group, which includes several other New England liberal arts colleges.
“I was surprised that our reported level of binge drinking was now above both our peer group and the national average because that had not been the case, say, three years ago,” Whaley said. “The negative consequences [connected to] drinking concern me the most, and then of course there are students who require medical attention for alcoholic poisoning.”
The high number of students who are sent Middlesex Hospital for alcohol poisoning has raised concerns.
“There have been occasions where the Middlesex Hospital has phoned us to say that there was no room for any more intoxicated students to come in,” Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Head of the Student Affairs Committee Andrew Trexler said.
President Michael Roth also wants to cut binge drinking on campus.
“It’s a problem that so many universities and colleges around the country have,” he said. “We have found a program of schools that want to see what we can do to eliminate binge drinking. We’re not trying to have a dry campus, but we are trying to eliminate excessive drinking that puts students’ health at risk.”
NCHIP was founded by Dartmouth College this past April in order to improve student health at colleges by addressing high-risk drinking. It encourages participating universities to conduct experiments on their campuses. Upon the completion of these experiments, the universities share data to assess their effectiveness.
The University is currently conducting five different experiments in order to see what effect they have on high-risk drinking among students. Three of these are occurring within freshman residence halls, while the other two experiments require students to use an alcohol education website, similar to AlcoholEdu.
“Our main objective for the moment is to gather as much data as we can,” Trexler said. “And I think that’s going fairly well.”
One experiment involves an increase in the number of non-drinking based programs run by Residential Advisers during Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. A second includes more educational outreach by WesWell about the impacts of alcohol on health. The final dorm experiment involves an increase in the presence of Public Safety Officers in one freshman residence. None of the students living in any of these three dorms have been informed that these experiments are going on.
“When it comes to binge drinking, we have multiple roles,” Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer said. “We help in education and information and talk about it to students when we do the dorm visits. We always encourage students if someone is overly intoxicated to call us.”
The other two experiments help inform participating students about the harmful consequences of alcohol use through a website called AlcoholInnerview. This website briefly assesses self-reported drinking habits and provides participants with feedback on their responses. Any student brought before the Student Judicial Board for an alcohol-related offense is required to do this. Additionally, students who go to the Davison Health Center on weekend nights may be encouraged to also use the website.
“We were designing tests that we thought may impact high drinking rates,” Whaley said. “The idea is you do a test, figure out what you learned from it and then make adjustments to get closer to the outcome you wanted. The hope is that these five tests will have some sort of positive impact in reducing high-risk drinking.”
While the three dorm experiments were discontinued immediately prior to fall break, there has not been any official data on these experiments, as the administration is still waiting for the results from the freshman class’ second response to AlcoholEdu. Whaley said that he should receive feedback from the experiments by the end of November.
“We’re waiting for the data to assess the information on the effect these experiments have had,” he said.
While the future of this project is pending unknown data, Whaley has high hopes for the project and the University. He said he hopes the University will reduce its reports of students engaging in high-risk drinking from 57 to 37 percent by the end of the program in November, 2012.
“We were encouraged to be optimistic and set something that would be a reach for us,” Whaley said. “But at the same time [the goal] is something that we could get to if we work really hard.”