Straight talk on alcohol abuse
In the spring edition of The Magazine of Elon I wrote about last fall’s Academic Summit, an all-campus conversation about the overall academic climate at Elon. This conversation centered on the degree to which our increasingly well-qualified student body is being challenged academically and the extent to which the total university environment supports intellectual achievement. There is no doubt that Elon has made astounding progress as an intellectual community over the past decade. But even in the face of this great progress, the Academic Summit compelled us to examine and address aspects of campus life that inhibit student learning. Perhaps the greatest of these factors is a culture of high-risk drinking that pollutes nearly every campus in the nation, including Elon.
Consider these unvarnished and unsettling facts. Last year, 15 Elon students were suspended from the university for extremely dangerous alcohol usage, including six who were transported to the hospital with blood alcohol levels in excess of .30. Due to extreme intoxication, a student studying abroad fell down a flight of stairs and was severely injured. Another was paralyzed from the chest down following an altercation at an off-campus party. Nationally normed survey data tell us that a much higher percentage of first-year Elon students drank alcohol in high school compared to peers at other highly selective four-year colleges and universities. These facts make it clear that alcohol misuse is a prominent part of the social lives of many of our students.
While Elon has taken significant steps and made good progress in the past to address alcohol abuse, there is clearly more that needs to be done. Last spring, I appointed a Presidential Task Force on Alcohol in response to one of the recommendations made in the Academic Summit final report to the campus. The task force is chaired by Jeff Clark, professor of mathematics, and Smith Jackson, vice president for student life and dean of students. Their work will continue well into the fall semester, but I want to give readers of the magazine a sense of the issues and potential responses that are under consideration to curb high-risk alcohol use by students.
First, Elon will communicate with utmost clarity that underage drinking is in no way condoned by the institution. Beginning in the 2007- 2008 academic year, a set of increased sanctions will be put in place to hold students who violate campus policies fully accountable for their actions. For the most serious violations, these sanctions could include suspension of eligibility for study abroad experiences or suspension from the university. The task force has already recommended notifying parents about alcoholrelated infractions so that the university can enlist their support in changing students’ behavior.
The university also is reviewing other strategies to effect positive change. An Internet-based alcohol education course will be required of all incoming students. Faculty development workshops are planned to assist professors who wish to incorporate alcohol education components into courses. The peer education program will be enhanced and mini-grants for alcohol-free, student-initiated events will be increased. Additional student spaces for alcohol-free social and recreational activities will be provided. New mentoring systems for students who violate the campus alcohol policies are being proposed. Also, a campus community coalition will be formed to reduce high-risk drinking not only on campus but also in the surrounding community. The recommendations now under consideration reflect the best collaboration of faculty, staff and students with the hope of making Elon the healthiest and most vibrant campus possible.
We at Elon are deeply concerned when we see students engage in alcohol abuse that threatens their lives, the well-being of fellow students and the campus environment for learning. We cannot, and will not, turn our heads away from this problem. We will face it honestly and with conviction. And we will be a stronger community for doing so.
Leo M. Lambert