As I promised in an earlier post, I am writing about alcohol use/abuse by students (and I suppose others) on campus. Its been over a month since I said I would write about this so why now? There have been a number of unfortunate events coinciding with the start of the new academic year including at my own institution. For instance, a student from Calgary apparently died of alcohol abuse at Acadia last week, at least two students died at Queen’s University over the past year as a result of alcohol related issues, and most recently there was a major bar fight and stabbing on the sleepy UBC Okanagan campus just two days ago. On a more public scale but off-campus, it doesn’t take much detective work to realize that the Vancouver riots were fuelled by alcohol. Generally there are two views on this: (1) its just kids growing up, we all went through it, or (2) this totally inappropriate for any institution of higher learning. I will self-declare as being fully, 100%, in the second category. There may be a line where we cross into “no-fun territory” or “the constitution gives me the right to drink on my own time” etc, but we’re no where close to that now.
First question that must be asked: Are we satisfied with the current situation or do we consider it acceptable? Let me spin that question around just a bit, do kids need to get completely inebriated once or twice or every weekend to “grow up”? In my opinion, no. 100% no. The type of thinking that considers that a feasible or viable option must be expelled from our society. Do I need to hit my thumb with a hammer every day so that I comprehend pain and “grow up”? Of course not. If we define “growing up” as becoming mature thinkers capable of contributing positively to society and tackling some of the great issues in the world, I fail to see how binge drinking can even be considered a necessary condition.
Second question: What can we do to avoid these tragedies? First we need to educate the students on the issues with binge drinking. I’m not talking about sitting 500 frosh down and lecturing them, we’re educators for crying out loud, surely we can find a way to help students learn about the issues and ramifications of alcohol abuse that doesn’t involve their repeated first-hand experience. Second, we MUST provide alternative activities for students that don’t involve alcohol. I suspect, although I don’t have evidence, that many students drink because their peers drink, its THE thing to do an a Friday night, and there’s no great alternatives. Let’s take the lead on this, be innovative and help these students out. Third, universities must help create a sense of unity and community within the student body. Students must learn tolerance and respect and treat each other, staff and faculty as family. My family is in no way perfect, I verbally fought with my siblings and parents but we didn’t stab each other or cut each other with broken beer bottles.
Finally, if you are a faculty member as I am, take the lead. Ask your Dean, Provost, and President what your campus is doing to ensure the campus is a safe and healthy learning environment for everyone. Don’t accept hand waving answers. And share your initiatives and proposals. We’re all in this together. I’m sure there is some great research and reading on this, its on my list for the winter break. If you know of anything please post as a comment and I’ll start building my reading list.
That’s my rant for today. To the parents affected by the events I mentioned in this post, my deepest condolences and I apologize for not doing more to protect your kids.