The University Record, February 8, 1999

‘Celebration drinking’ discussed by reps from state’s public universities

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

An effort to wrestle with the issue of binge drinking on their campuses brought together representatives from all 15 public colleges and universities in Michigan at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing last week.

The conference, sponsored by the President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan, had as its focus a proposal from the presidents, represented by Michigan State University’s Peter McPherson, to target excessive “celebration drinking” because it appears that “many of our students will engage in dangerous high-risk drinking around a celebration,” such as a 21st birthday. McPherson challenged the participants to take back to their campuses the resolve to address this aspect of binge drinking as the beginning of a concerted effort to attack the overall problem.

Prior to McPherson’s address James Haveman, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, called binge drinking “deadly behavior,” referring to recent deaths at the U-M, MSU and Ferris State University. He presented 10 recommendations for consideration by those attending the conference. They included parental notification when a student is troubled by excessive drinking, a mentoring program—for which he offered matching funds—that would begin in high school and carry over to college, talks by presidents with editors of campus newspapers about ads featuring drink specials by local bars and a Web site shared among the state universities and devoted to information on programs to combat binge drinking.

U-M’s contingent to the conference was led by Royster Harper, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and included Michigan Student Assembly President Trent Thompson, former Inter Fraternity Council President Bradley Holcman and Marsha Benz of the University Health Service, who heads U-M’s binge drinking task force. Harper and Thompson served on a panel that spoke to the issue of binge drinking and took questions from other campus representatives and members of the media.

Harper stated during the panel discussion that any campaign must be consistent and sustained. She described the U-M’s concern about the ways excessive drinking by students affects the idea of community as part of the University’s approach. Holcman said that the Greek community “had lost the notion of moderate use of alcohol in partying” and told of the Greek leadership’s efforts to counter that trend.

James McBryde, a special assistant to Haveman, urged university leaders to “be sure we know what’s going on in the bars near campuses,” noting that a single bottle of beer has been replaced by a pitcher as “a single serving.”

Thompson joined other students conferees in emphasizing that student participation at every step in any attempt to change student culture is absolutely critical to its success.

The conference concluded with a general consensus that, along with student participation, there must be a balance between education, new programs, and enforcement if binge drinking is to be significantly curtailed.