Administrators at the University of Mary Washington have been working with students and outside contractors to educate the student population about indulging in alcohol and the consequences that can come with it.
“Not everything needs to be handled as a judicial violation with a given sanction,” said Dr. Raymond Tuttle, the director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility for the university. “I would much rather be an educator than somebody who just handed out sanctions and was perceived as being punitive.”
The grim portrait of student alcohol use painted by recent national surveys shows the need for such emphasis. One survey done by the American College Health Association in 2011 estimated that the actual reported use of any alcohol within 30 days of student surveying was 65.9 percent. This was an increase from the 63.1 percent reported in 2008, but only slightly more than the 65.4 percent of 2006. The Annual Review of Public Health stated that in 2009 that 1,825 college students from the ages of 18 to 24 died from alcohol related deaths including those involving motor vehicles. In the same year the CORE Institute at the Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, one of the leaders in college drinking statistics, showed that about 159,000 freshmen drop out of college nationally due to alcohol or drug related problems.
In response, school administrators have turned to outside help. One of the leading organizations in the fight for college alcohol education is the organization of EverFi, formally known as Outside the Classroom. Founded in the late 90s-early 2000s by Duke graduate Brandon Busteed the company has dedicated itself to generating a proficient computerized alcohol education tool. Its most prominent and highly awarded program for colleges is called AlcoholdEdu, an online course that is designed to work on a personal level with the user.
The program, has been acknowledged by a federal government study as being “effective in reducing dangerous alcohol use in college students” after three years of inspection. On its website EverFi states that AlcoholEdu is contracted by “hundreds of campuses” with 36 percent of all first year students in American colleges using it. It also states that its program has upwards of three million graduates, making it “one of the largest online courses in the world.”
Many schools such as James Madison University and Duke University require their entire entering freshman class to complete the program. At the University of Mary Washington students interact with the program after being written up for a judicial violation. In the 2009-2010, 78 of the 173 total violations pertained to alcohol. The 2010-2011 school year had 196 disciplinary violations recorded with 124 of those relating to alcohol of which 88 students participated in AlcoholEdu. The data gathered from these 88 students shows that over half were male, in the 18 year-old range and lived in residence halls.
Yet the student reaction to AlcoholEdu at Mary Washington is varied. Senior Christopher Stewart, who was written up for an alcohol violation his freshman year in 2008 said that the course presented was simple and it “didn’t change my thinking about alcohol.” On the other hand, freshman Stanton Coman, who was written up earlier this year, said that AlcoholEdu was “really extensive” and “made you think about the information you just saw.” Coman added that the “experience of getting in trouble changed me more than AlcoholEDU.”
These are the types of reactions EverFi expects to garner from its products. It offers its partners an annual executive study that highlights student reactions and compiles student data to help colleges adjust their prevention programs.
Still over the 15 years Dr. Tuttle has acted as Director of Judicial Affairs, the policy on alcohol has not changed. “There are a lot of misconceptions [about the alcohol policy]…one that I’ve heard for years and years is that there is a three-strike policy for alcohol…that’s not true, it’s never been true,” says Tuttle, “We do reserve the right to remove an individual after three [violations] if need be…but I don’t think the policy has gotten any harsher.” As it stands now the sanction assigned to a violation depends on each case, punishments range from AlcoholEdu to reflection papers and even to community service with the ultimate punishment being removal from school. Coman himself was assigned 10 hours community service and a 500-word essay.
Student acceptance and reactions to the Administration’s drinking policy and its emphasis on education have remained mixed.