The death of University of Oklahoma freshman Blake Hammontree spurred a radical change in his school's alcohol policy. On January 18, the University of Oklahoma instituted a completely dry campus for both underage and of-age students, aimed to combat alcohol abuse from all fronts. Officers and members of Greek organizations must sign pledges to abide by the new policy, and all violators will face increased enforcement and punishment.
Citing the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study appearing the March 2002 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, University of Oklahoma president David Boren pointed out that drinking among college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,400 deaths, 500,000 injuries, and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.
Colleges are responding, and in a recent study by Harvard's School of Public Health, one out of three schools has banned alcohol, including the University of Kansas and the University of Utah.
Susan Art, dean of students in the College, said that the University administration does not condone underage drinking, but that their focus has been more on student safety and less on being "enforcers of state law." Art said the administration does not normally bring disciplinary charges against a student for excessive or under-aged drinking unless this is coupled with other behaviors damaging to the community.
"We only communicate with parents when we deem there is a serious health or safety issue with a student, and this is almost always done after consulting with the student," she said.
According to the University's student manual, students living in housing should be aware that "the use of alcoholic beverages is not permitted in the common areas of the College houses. Common areas include lounges, corridors, stairwells, study rooms, recreation rooms, community kitchens, entryways, and the like." This policy is popularly known as the "closed-door" policy.
The University maintains that each resident is responsible for his or her own conduct and the subsequent consequences.
Kelley Carameli, the health education specialist at the Student Care Center, noted that such policies are beneficial to the student population's self-perception.
"University of Chicago students, in particular, like to make choices and weigh the pros and cons," Carameli said. "It works because University of Chicago students are likely to make a mistake only once and then go on to choose healthier behavior."
Using data gathered from the 2002 to 2004 University of Chicago Student Health
Assessment Survey, Carameli noted that in 2001, 77 percent of student responses reported they had consumed an average of zero to four drinks in one evening, whereas in 2004, the number went up to 81 percent.
Knowledge of alcohol-related resources has also increased. In 2001, 50 percent of undergrads and 40 percent of graduate students were aware that programs existed on campus. In 2004, the number went up to 75 percent.
This data allowed the University of Chicago to secure one of the three Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Models on College Campuses Grant Competition grants given by the Department of Education. The $128,668 is being used to fund the Noctis Sero events, which include increased outreach efforts, additional drug-free campus activities, and educational materials on preventing marijuana use and managing stress. "Our mocktails and on-site tabling at different substance-free events have made it easier for students to become aware of an alternative," Carameli said.
At Wheaton College, no undergraduates are permitted to use alcohol on or off campus. Until two years ago, standing policy did not allow even graduate students to drink. "There is a tradition at Wheaton for spiritual commitment at the institution. Other reasons include the legal age in the state of Illinois as well as the cultural phenomena with the abuse of alcohol amongst college students," said Samuel Shellhamer, vice president of Student Development at Wheaton.
Back at Oklahoma, students have a "three strikes" policy that delineates the disciplinary responses, including mandatory guardian notification, alcohol education, and school sanctions. "Party houses" will be shut down in conjunction with the city ordinances of Norman, Oklahoma; campus-affiliated parties where alcohol will be served will be limited to Friday and Saturday nights only; and fraternities must re-evaluate their current rush activities and schedules.
Boren publicly announced that the goal of such actions are meant to curtail abuse and may be used as a model for other universities. "I truly believe that the changes I am suggesting will make our community strong and safer," he said.
"The policies that will impact fraternities and sororities will make them strong institutions for developing scholarship, fostering leadership, building character, and developing true friendships."