With controversy surrounding Boston College's policies concerning student behavior, perhaps it is time to examine another problem the administration has long overlooked: binge drinking. Boston College Police Department (BCPD) keeps watch on the weekend for overzealous freshmen and students in their “danger zone,” but has done little for preventative action, choosing instead to focus on punishment and alcohol education after an incident.
Aside from a brief and generic alcohol education course online, freshmen are left to their own devices as they enter an environment with far more alcohol consumption. Recent studies suggest that colleges have the resources to reduce the amount of light drinkers that increase their alcohol consumption to dangerous levels. A new study from Penn State University says that one of the most effective ways to reduce binge drinking is to talk to freshmen before they get to campus.
Rob Turisi and colleagues at Penn State University surveyed almost 2,000 students and their parents before the start of college and during their freshman and sophomore years. The parents in the experimental group led informational discussions before freshman year about drinking. The parents were encouraged to discuss their own former drinking habits as models, as well as talking about potential risks and alternatives to drinking culture. Another group had added booster discussions throughout the students’ college years, while a third group instituted discussions after the start of school instead of before, and a final control group did nothing.
Generally, the study showed that trends for the many students ranged from nondrinkers, to students who begin drinking by 15 months into college (even if they are not legal yet). However, the discussion instructions Turisi gave to the experimental groups apparently reduced binge drinking habits, particularly with students who entered college already as heavy drinkers. They noted that time was the key factor—students with pre-college discussions were 20 times more likely to decide on healthier drinking or nondrinking instead of heavy drinking. The discussions instituted after the start of college were no more effective than doing nothing, nor did the booster discussions during the year affect drinking.
Turisi concluded that conversations about drinking before college means that “young adult children who have already started high risk or heavy drinking are more likely to transition out of these groups while at college.” These conversations, he argues, give teens an opportunity to examine the reason they drink, and gives them a method of considering alternatives to alcohol to handle various stressors. Thinking about the reasons behind the drinking was a positive avenue for both nondrinkers and heavy drinkers, and led to reduced binge drinking in all cases.
So what might BC take from this? Amidst an examination of old policies and searching for ways to make life for entering freshmen healthier and better, a different method of alcohol education could be seen be a solution. Other, more radical prepositions, such as providing alcohol on campus as a means of reducing binge drinking, have also been suggested by the university. However, the proposal is still in its early stages and the effectiveness of such a proposal is unclear.