A reader and I had a face-to-face discussion a few months back regarding alcohol use on campus which led to my initial post regarding alcohol use/abuse by university students. I received a follow up email from that reader this week after they had a conversation with a relative currently attending Harvard. Apparently alcohol is not an issue on Harvard, or at least for this particular university student. The student is too busy with their academic studies and the legal drinking age in Massachusetts is 21 so they can’t legally drink even if they had the time. I was glad to hear that but a bit skeptical. Family morals and expectations probably have more to do with this individual story than any other factor. That is great news for this particular student (and their family) but not necessarily great news for the rest of the higher education system.
Earlier in the week I read a news article about a new study that is going to study alcohol usage for 2,000 university students for the next five years. In particular, the research will examine the impact on actual consumption that perceived levels of peer drinking has. That is, does a student drink more if they think their peers are drinking more? I suspect the answer is yes but I look forward to hearing the definitive answer.
I was trying to reconcile my preconceptions about drinking and peer-drinking with the one piece of data from Harvard. Is Harvard really all that different? Perhaps. On average Harvard may have more intelligent, wealthier, more driven students than other institutions. On the other hand, George W attended Harvard so maybe Harvard students really aren’t that much different. Does Harvard have an issue with alcohol abuse? A quick search on Google found the following: Harvard’s Alcohol Amnesty Policy. Harvard thinks that students are more likely to seek help for alcohol related issues if Harvard promises to NOT contact the student’s parents, hence the “amnesty”. Perhaps Harvard believes that its students are mature enough or bright enough to use alcohol sparingly. Apparently not. Alcohol related patients at the university infirmary have increased by 43% in the last two years. And those are years when George W wasn’t even on campus!
Finally, while Googling around this evening I found this tragic story: Alcohol Poisoning Suspected Cause of Clemson Student’s Death. Very sad. I met a number of Clemson staff a month ago at a conference. All the staff I met were very involved in student life services beyond just academic stuff and I know they will be feeling the pain. I was very impressed with what I saw going on at Clemson – great student support, great residential programs, excellent faculty-student interactions, lots of effort to ensure students had the necessary support to succeed. Despite all that help, this student still made some poor choices last Friday night.
I’m not sure why this topic keeps rolling around my brain. I have no expectations of prohibition but it does seem to be heavily centered around education. Education of the risks of alcohol. If universities do not take responsibility for the education or at least ensure more effort to provide educational opportunities for students about alcohol then I’m not really sure we should label ourselves Institutions of Higher Education. I would love for some students to leave some comments on this. Why do you binge drink? It is costly and makes you feel crappy the next day. What are the upsides?