This past Thursday evening, Gustavus hosted a public forum on high-risk drinking in the Jackson Campus Center. The event drew 70 students, faculty and administrators. The forum included a formal presentation focused on explaining high-risk drinking tendencies at Gustavus followed by small group discussions on how best to address the issue. Of those in attendance, 40 were students.
The event was organized by Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Jeff Stocco and Director of Drug and Alcohol Education Judy Douglas. “[Douglas and I] started talking about the fact that it seemed we needed to have a campus-wide conversation about alcohol and alcohol policies in general. … Each year we have about 30 [people who] come to our attention who have consumed alcohol to the point where they need care. … Part of the challenge is to then step back and [ask ourselves] how big an issue is high-risk drinking or binge drinking on this campus,” Stocco said.
However, Stocco said the issue goes beyond just the few students who are in need of immediate hospitalized care. “[The focus was] not just on the students who come to our attention but the bigger issue —that about 15 to 20 percent of our students engage in high-risk drinking behavior. That’s several hundred students that we need to think about in terms of ways to keep them safer.”
It was decided that a forum would be the best way to approach the issue, as it was deemed the best way to spark a campus-wide discussion. “It would be easy to say this is the responsibility of this office or that office, such as Residential Life or Campus Safety. But this is an issue where I think it is best we have the community address it together,” Stocco said. “The solution to any campus-wide problem is larger than any one person’s expertise.”
Both faculty and students in attendance felt the forum was a success in starting a campus-wide conversation about the dangers of high-risk drinking. Associate Dean of Students Deirdre Rosenfeld, who attended the forum, said, “We’re all in this thing together. [What I took away from the forum] was that there is this emerging coalition not just from students who drink or kids from PLEDGE but faculty and staff members [as well].”
Senior Political Science Major Nick Harper, who also went to the forum, agreed. “I think it was a really great mix of faculty, staff and students, and I think it was great to have that mixed group have a discussion.”
According to Stocco, the discussion will certainly continue into the spring and next fall. “The intention was to generate lots of ideas, not to come to some consensus. … But this is not an issue that just goes away by having a conversation. [The discussion] will carry over into next fall when we take a look at some policies and address some very specific issues,” Stocco said.
One idea, according to Harper, was to consider the current campus alcohol violation policies.” There are some administrators who are in favor of extending the limited immunity policy to a full amnesty policy, which I think might be able to help students when they feel trapped between getting caught due to policy versus helping a friend in need,” Harper said.
“[Part of this] is friends taking care of friends and influencing each other’s choices. People do make mistakes, but when a bad decision has been made, how do you take advantage of those resources?” Stocco said. “We will be [reviewing] the immunity and amnesty policies.”
Above any policy, Stocco stressed that the main issue is to keep students safe and alive. “This is not about punishing people for drinking. Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is to figure out ways for people to make good decisions,” Stocco said.