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Cal State OKs Assault on Student Drinking

Education: The 23 campuses will offer treatment programs, advisory boards and ad campaigns. Some students say the steps lack credibility.

July 12, 2001|NEDRA RHONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prompted by one alcohol-related death and two near-deaths last fall, California State University trustees Wednesday adopted among the nation's most comprehensive guidelines on student drinking.

The strategies adopted for the system's 23 campuses include alcohol treatment programs, alcohol advisory boards and advertisements.

To cover the cost of new programs, the chancellor's office will allocate $25,000 to each campus, provided the campuses each match that amount.

"We are recommending a comprehensive approach to the problem. Everyone is doing something, but there really needs to be a campuswide approach," said John Welty, president of Cal State Fresno and head of the task force of students, faculty and administrators that developed the recommendations.

One of the more innovative strategies involves "social norms" marketing in which students are informed how much alcohol, on average, their peers consume. The idea is that students will drink less if they know their peers are not drinking to excess.

Some students are skeptical about that and other approaches.

"They have these ads that say X percent of CSUN students drink so much per week," said Thomas Heller, a 20-year-old junior at Cal State Northridge. "They always try to make it sound like no one is drinking.

"I don't believe it," he said.

Cynthia Jaquez, 22, doubted the strategies' effectiveness.

"I think students at the college level know the effects of drinking. They do it because everyone does it. I don't think [new policies] will have an effect on it," said Jaquez, a Cal State Northridge senior.

Shaun Lumachi, a graduating senior from Cal State Sacramento who served on the task force, said that getting students to take an interest in alcohol control wasn't easy.

"The first reaction of the average student is 'Are they saying it's a dry campus?' " said Lumachi. "The focus isn't on making every campus a dry campus or on saying all students are drunks. Students need more resources for alcohol abuse. This policy . . . makes those resources available."

The problem is widespread at campuses nationwide. In 1999, 44% of college students engaged in binge drinking, a Harvard study found. Nineteen percent abstained from drinking.

The Harvard researchers defined binge drinking as five drinks in one sitting for men and four for women.

Cal State began developing its new guidelines last December after two 18-year-olds at San Diego State almost died from alcohol poisoning and an 18-year-old at Cal State Chico died of asphyxiation after drinking a bottle of brandy.

Each campus is charged with creating its own set of alcohol policies under the university guidelines.

"We've recognized the fact that on our 23 campuses they are all very different . . . so it's really very difficult to say there is only one series of steps you can take to make a difference," Welty said.

Experts said enforcement of the policies and student awareness are keys to success.

Cal State's new policy signals an important change in the way institutions approach student alcohol abuse, said William DeJong, director of the Massachusetts-based Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention.

"Historically schools thought of this as an education problem. [They thought] if they could just find the right way to communicate the right message to students, this campus drinking may go down," he said.

The new policy focuses on creating a campus culture to encourage behavioral changes, he said.

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