INSIDE Chico State
0 October 19, 2000
Volume 31 Number 5
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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FROM THE PRESIDENT'S DESK

Campus Climate Must Change

Our campus is in mourning because of the tragic death of our student, Adrian Heideman. I have been personally touched by it, and I believe that the whole campus -- students, staff, and faculty -- have been overwhelmed by this tragedy.

This senseless loss underscores the need for faculty, staff, administrators, and student leaders to improve our prevention efforts. A spring 2000 random-sample survey of student alcohol and drug use conducted by the Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center (CADEC) reveals that CSU, Chico students' rates of alcohol and drug use exceed comparison schools in California and around the country. This must change.

Even before this tragedy, CSU, Chico had intensified its efforts in recent years to prevent student alcohol abuse. Letters are sent to newly admitted students and their parents about responsible choices with alcohol. Residence halls prohibit alcohol on their premises, and residence hall staff are instructed to strictly enforce these regulations. Violators are referred to CADEC for alcohol awareness classes. Repeat violators may be expelled from residence halls. Residence hall staff are trained to recognize symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Freshmen are instructed through University Life 001 about the risks of alcohol abuse, including alcohol poisoning. CADEC sends a card before the 21st birthday of every student as a reminder about alcohol poisoning during the birthday celebration. CADEC carries on a host of other alcohol awareness programs, including peer-educator programs in residence halls and student organizations. Student Affairs staff work closely with sororities, fraternities, and other student organizations to encourage responsible behavior in relation to alcohol and adherence to university regulations and community laws. University Police, the Chico Police Department, and campus administration cooperate closely to ensure a safe environment for students and the Chico community.

We know that the problem of student alcohol abuse is not unique to this campus. National studies indicate that nearly half of students nationwide report high-risk drinking (five or more drinks at a sitting) within the two weeks prior to the survey. There have been a number of alcohol-induced deaths at other campuses in recent months. Here and elsewhere, student misuse of alcohol is a reflection of the surrounding culture that glorifies alcohol as a means to enhance sexuality, belonging, status, and happiness.

Although we already are doing a good deal to prevent student alcohol abuse and although we are not alone with this problem, it is clear we must do a better job. I have asked CADEC, Student Affairs staff, my Alcohol and Drug Advisory Committee, student leaders, and others (including Professor Walt Schafer, who is devoting part of his time this semester to this issue) to recommend constructive steps we can take to strengthen our prevention efforts. I have learned that one of the most promising approaches nationally is called "social norming" or "social marketing."

Repeated studies throughout the country have shown that college students overestimate how much their peers drink. Prevention experts believe that this misperception of the norm drives higher alcohol consumption as students seek to conform.

The CSU, Chico spring 2000 student alcohol and drug survey found that, even though our student consumption figures are higher than elsewhere, CSU, Chico students still overestimate the frequency and amount that fellow students drink. Providing students with accurate facts about the actual drinking patterns by their peers has been shown to correct these misperceptions, resulting in significant reductions in high-risk college student drinking. Such informational campaigns at Northern Illinois University, University of Arizona, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Western Washington University have resulted in significant reductions in high-risk student drinking. Our own new campaign will begin spring semester 2001. The alcohol and drug survey will be re-administered each spring to assess trends in alcohol use. This new campaign will be primarily funded over the next three years by a generous gift from CSU, Chico alumna Nancy Hodges in memory of her daughter.

Meanwhile, we will continue to explore other ways the university can reduce alcohol abuse. We need to ask whether students are as academically challenged and engaged during the first weeks of the semester -- and on Fridays -- as they might be. We will encourage faculty to become more involved in student alcohol-abuse prevention through research, by bringing relevant academic perspectives to the alcohol issue in classes, and by encouraging student research on this issue. Greek pledging during freshmen students' first semester needs to be questioned. We may need better enforcement of alcohol prohibition in the residence halls and in university-recognized off-campus residences. Students need even better and more effective instruction about the danger signs of alcohol poisoning and about what to do when someone shows those signs. Students need to take better care of one another. We need more alcohol-free student activities on weekends -- and better publicizing of those now available. A new student recreation center is needed. A comprehensive healthy lifestyles program would help. So would increasing the proportion of students involved in service learning and volunteer activities.

In short, we need to work together to continue to build a campus climate that encourages and rewards academic engagement, intellectual excellence, and healthy lifestyles. This campus climate needs to make clear that irresponsible drinking is neither normal nor cool at CSU, Chico.

Manuel A. Esteban

 

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