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Record alcohol-related hospitalizations: SGA, administration search for solutions

Last weekend, two students were sent to Grinnell Regional Medical Center for binge drinking, spiking this semester’s hospitalizations to 15 and breaking the fall 2008 record with four weeks left in the semester.

Contrasting a downward trend in emergency room visits over the past three years, these current numbers bring to light what some students and administrators believe is an alcohol abuse problem on campus. Despite student concerns that this increase will encourage the administration to impose restrictive alcohol policies, President Kington and members of Student Affairs believe the burden is on students to change their attitudes and lower the numbers.

“It worries me that the recent experience expresses a trend in the wrong direction,” President Raynard Kington said. However, he believes students can handle it on their own.

Since the College began keeping track of alcohol-related hospitalizations in fall of 2008, the Harm Reduction Committee has recommended measures to control dangerous drinking behavior, such as wrist-bands for all-campus parties to identify those of legal age, eliminating quarter beer night at Lyle’s pub, alcohol education programs and the creation of the Hall Wellness Coordinator student staff position. An important aspect of each of these precautions is that the administration wants to rely on students regulating themselves under self-governance.

Before this semester, the harm-reduction approach appeared to be working. During the 2008-2009 academic year, emergency room visits fell from 14 during the fall semester to three in the spring term and stayed low until now.

“From what I’ve seen, the alcohol policies in recent years generally have worked,” Kington said. “But we need to constantly reassess them to make sure they still work. As a matter of principle I’m supportive of policies that are consistent of our self-governance values.”

Despite the liberties that the administration allows student to have when it comes to drugs and alcohol, if the problem worsens, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Houston Dougharty, the administration will have to step in.

“We can’t, as a college, from both a liability perspective and out of concern for a student’s well-being, stand by if those types of events result in a large number of students or even any students putting themselves in harm’s way,” Dougharty said. “It wouldn’t be in any shape or way or form be our first choice, we really want students to address it themselves.”

Chris Dorman ’12, Vice President of Student Affairs for the Student Government Association, and co-chair of the Harm Reduction Committee, believes there is an alcohol problem on campus, but he says relying on the hospitalization records paints a false picture of the drinking culture at Grinnell.

“I honestly believe that first-year students have more trust in RLCs and are making more calls,” Dorman said. “If there are more calls, there are naturally more hospitalizations.”

However, Dougharty disagrees and claims that RLCs, security and paramedics examine the student’s condition before sending them to the hospital.

“There have been times when RLCs and campus safety have been called to help someone who has had too much to drink and they don’t need to make the call,” Dougharty said. “On one hand we are very pleased that folks are reaching out when they feel someone needs help, and at the same time we think that the students reaching out for help has been fairly consistent.”

Whether that’s the case or not, it is just one way we assess the drinking culture, according to Dorman. He believes that when assessing the effect of alcohol on campus, students and administrators must look at it from several factors, not just emergency room visits. One of his ideas is to examine the dorm damages each weekend alongside the medical and legal reports Student Affairs looks at each week.

At Joint Board this week, there was talk that Student Affairs strictly enforce the wristband policy, better guaranteeing that alcohol will only be served to those over 21 at campus-sponsored events.

Thomas Neil ’14 agrees with Dorman and thinks that student affairs should tally the amount of money and time Facilities Management(FM) spends on cleaning up after parties.

“The fact that someone has to clean up your vomit is really de-humanizing to the person cleaning,” Neil said. “This is a way to show people how we can be more respectful towards facilities management.”
A FM worker who wished to remain anonymous thinks that at times the partying goes too far.

“Sometimes what we clean up after the weekend can seem a bit excessive and disrespectful of us,” the staff member said. The FM employee also thought that evaluating student damages post-parties would be tricky, since the fines vary at the discretion of FM staff members.

By any metric, some alcohol abuse assuredly happens every weekend, and that is the problem we’re attempting to solve. Stephanie Brown, Lead Physiologist and Director of Student Health and Counseling Services (SHACS) believes that the problem stems from the students depending too heavily on alcohol as a way to relax from the stressful week.

“I think there’s a failure of self-governance at play here,” Brown said. “Students are not getting involved and holding other students accountable for their behavior, and helping each other recognize when enough is enough.”

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  • R

    RoyNov 30, 2011 at 5:34 am

    “guaranteeing that alcohol will only be served to those under 21” … that’s a misprint, right?

  • 2

    2013Nov 22, 2011 at 7:44 am

    also yall gonna get rid of quarter beer night? i live for pub quiz and quarter beer night!

  • 2

    2013Nov 22, 2011 at 7:38 am

    maybe this school just needs to go back to letting in weird pot-heads and hippies, and not crazy, normal, conventional people who like getting blackout drunk every weekend.

    This sounds silly, buts true. the sad part is the newer people probably are a little smarter and have higher test scores.

    looks like grinnell’s admissions policies (i.e. targeting conventional east coast wealthy kids) backfired, but way to draw any and all news attention your way (not the way grinnell intended to distinguish itself)

    is [2013] the last hipsters/weird people?
    are we heading down the road to normalcy?

  • J

    Jim JomolNov 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Alcohol affects people differently. Some people after a night of drinking can sleep the day away but other people wake up early after a night of drinking. If you want to know why your body does this, this article gives a great explanation on it.