Precautions expose alcohol education flaws

With one of the most raucous and damage-causing nights of the year, Halloween, falling on a Friday night for the first time in six years, members of the administration and the Vassar Student Association (VSA) have decided to devote an additional $1,000 to house teams to help prevent alcohol or drug-induced EMS calls. Among the pillars of such programs will be dorms providing food to ensure students do not drink with an empty stomach, flyers discussing alcohol safety and mandatory dorm discussions.

This ramping up of pre-event programming coincides with a substantial increase in EMS calls this year, which organizers seem worried will only exacerbate the Halloweekend revelries. We at The Miscellany News commend the various parties responsible for attempting to reduce the bodily and dorm damage done on Halloweekend.

Halloweekend has long been synonymous with above-average EMS calls and hundreds of dollars worth of damages to Main Building. Other dorms are also vulnerable, as recent years have seen the destruction of house fellow property as well. In 2013, 11 students received EMS treatments, and 12 during the year before. According to reports, this year, approximately four to five students per weekend have been sent off campus to receive treatment for drug or alcohol-related concerns, which marks an increase from two to three in years prior. This statistic includes a significant rise in the number of freshmen requiring EMS calls.

According to House Student Advisors, house teams will pass out flyers about alcohol safety crafted by the HSAs during the VSA-funded snack time. This papering overlaps with the Freshmen Class Council’s poster campaign aimed at unmasking drinking myths of campus, which was initiated to reduce the frequency and severity of EMS calls among the freshmen. We at The Miscellany News find that such methods are passive means of addressing the issue, which harms the transmission of these messages. Although flyers may be effective for those students willing to read them in detail, many students can and do simply ignore such information. Even those events planned by house teams have a limited impact on students’ perceptions of alcohol use as such meetings are easily avoided.

We at The Miscellany News also question the tactics used to address the issue of safe drinking insofar as they promote an image of drinking culture on campus that may in fact induce unsafe consumption. By telling students that the night of the all-campus dance proves exceptionally alcohol-fueled and arguably attempting to instill a degree of fear in students, these programs subtly tell students that Vassar students drink heavily. We assert that a better approach to handling these nights would be to discuss alcohol not only ahead of notorious drinking events such as Halloweekend or Founder’s Day, but on a more consistent basis.

Another significant problem this money fails to adequately address but brings to light is that of the perceived ineffectiveness alcohol education curriculum, especially as it relates to this year’s freshmen class. Although the Senior Class Council first proposed the idea of providing food before the event Friday night to help students imbibe safely, the focus of the programming has undoubtedly shifted toward underclassmen, particularly freshmen. The Committee on Student Life decided against providing funding to senior housing, along with Ferry House, arguing that splitting the limited funds from the Dean of the College among all residential houses would make the impact of the money almost negligible.

The rhetoric among organizers about their target audience also betrays that this push from the administration and student government is driven by concerns about the freshmen. Whenever recernt discussions of Halloweekend planning have reached the Council floor, representatives have mentioned the impact of freshmen specifically on numerous occasions; with the exception of concerns about providing no assistance to senior living in senior housing, relatively little time was spent discussing the sophomore or junior classes specifically. This shows that, despite the fundings ability to assist all class years, the most pressing concern on the minds of organizers is the freshmen response to Halloweekend.

Currently, alcohol education is limited almost exclusively to AlcoholEdu™ curriculum and discussions during Freshmen Orientation. When discussed almost exclusively during this one week, the ability of vital pieces of information about unsafe drinking habits being lost is high; with information about sexual assault and violence training, meetings with advisors, and simply adjusting to a new environment requiring large amounts of consideration from incoming freshmen, lectures about alcohol can be ignored or blurred.

As the program appears to be insufficeint for the Class of 2018 and more distance between alcohol awareness programming may contribute to upperclassmen ignorance about drinking safety, we at The Miscellany News believe that new approaches to alcohol awareness must be more dynamic and exist outside of the Freshmen Orientation period. Instead of using lectures and reactive poster campaigns, the administration should consider alternative methods that will help ensure students gain and retain vital information about drinking safety.

We at The Miscellany News encourage the administration to evaluate whether spending money on these preventative measures for major drinking weekends is effective, and to take a further, more critical look at alcohol-related orientation programming.

Starting with Freshman Orientation, the administration must devote serious time reconsidering its alcohol education curriculum for all class years if it hopes to first stop the upward spike and then decrease the alcohol-related incidents.


—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.


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