Colleges Brainstorm Ways To Cut Back On Binge Drinking
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New pressure to address campus sexual assault has put a spotlight on another problem of binge drinking. At least half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol and excessive drinking is also tied to poor grades, mental health problems and injuries. On leader in tackling the problem is Frostburg State University in Maryland's Appalachian Mountains. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that administrators there are reaching beyond the campus for help.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Early Friday night a Frostburg State Police officer Derrick Pirolozzi has just started the late shift.
DERRICK PIROLOZZI: Hey guys how are you doing? Good.
LUDDEN: Before 2012 he wasn't allowed to patrol this off-campus neighborhood packed with students, but an unusual agreement gives him joint jurisdiction. Now he can tell who's gearing up for house parties.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PIROLOZZI: Can you can you see - right there?
LUDDEN: Oh yeah.
LUDDEN: Students dance in the backyard, they hang out on porches, stroll the streets with cases of Bud Light. The university helps pay overtime costs for a show of force. State, county, city and campus police all circling these blocks.
PIROLOZZI: We know that there's going to be underage drinking. We can't go out and card everybody but we want to make sure everybody does it the right way and the safe way.
LUDDEN: In other words he hopes to keep students from doing something stupid, so he won't have to arrest them later. At a white clapboard house Pirolozzi jumps out to chat with four guys on the front steps.
PIROLOZZI: What year are you guys in?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm a sophomore.
LUDDEN: All are under age but one and he's got a string of alcohol violations from past years. Pirolozzi banters a bit - reminds them, don't walk around with open containers.
PIROLOZZI: We'll see you guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I hope I don't see you tonight.
PIROLOZZI: I do too man.
JONATHAN GIBRALTER: The thing that is so striking to me is that many universities perceive it as an intractable problem and that there's nothing they can do.
LUDDEN: Jonathan Gibralter became president of Frostburg State in 2006 and found its party scene out of control. Joint police patrols are just one of many changes, there are now more Friday morning classes to discourage Thursday night drinking. Gibralter led the push from Maryland's recent ban on the sale of grain alcohol. With a state grant the school formed a coalition - city officials, parents, businesses - to tackle underage drinking across the community.
GIBRALTER: I have met with bar owners, where they said nobody would come and there weren't enough seats in this room and I said, hey guys we need your help.
LUDDEN: There's been pushed back of course. The surprises is from whom. Gibralter says his biggest critics are parents and alumni. We drink they say, what's so wrong?
GIBRALTER: When I tell parents that 1,800 plus college students drink themselves to death every year they are stunned. They have no idea.
LUDDEN: Not all students like the changes either.
ALISSA BARLOW: Well, no matter what they do it's still going to happen - it's college.
LUDDEN: Sophomores Alissa Barlow and Mary Garner speak between classes.
BARLOW: To be honest the more rules you put down, the more people just go like...
MARY GARNER: Against the rules.
BARLOW: Yeah, they're going to do it any way most the time.
LUDDEN: Still older students tell me the house parties are nothing like they used to be. Surveys show since 2006 the share of Frostburg students who binge drink has fallen sharply. Average drinks per-week dropped in half, from eight to four. Juniors Arun Pant, Caitlin Lemmert and Andrew Bock says they like the anti-booze effort, especially alcohol free parties at the student center.
ANDREW BOCK: There's really good food there each time. I mean, lots of prizes - door busters.
CAITLIN LAMMERT: ...iPads, Ray Bans, X-Box's...
ARUN PANT: ...Dance classes - we learned how to, like, tango or salsa or something before, which is pretty fun.
KEVIN KRUGER: What's happened in the last decade is the science around preventing the abuse of alcohol has really pretty improved. So we began looking at what approaches actually work.
LUDDEN: Kevin Kruger heads NASPA, an association for student affairs administrators, he says what works is changing the culture around drinking. Even something as small as getting a liquor store not to sell Ping-Pong balls next to its beer.
KRUGER: Well, it's to promote a game that's called, beer pong, which is very popular among college students. Now it may seem like a small thing - it's not like college students can't go find Ping-Pong balls. But why put it out there so that it's so easy for them to do that?
LUDDEN: Also effective - simply making it harder to get alcohol.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Can I get anything for you ladies?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I'm OK for right now, thank you.
LUDDEN: Frostburg State University has made it harder for underage students to be served in local bars. In something of a quid pro quo it's paid the Sheriff's office to carry out monthly undercover compliance checks. But the school also pays for training to help bar staff spot the fake IDs students get online these days.
RICH GODLOVE: Honestly these IDs are so good it's ridiculous.
LUDDEN: Rich Godlove owns Zen-Shi bar and restaurant.
GODLOVE: In fact as soon as we had the class last year we came in and probably caught two or three fake IDs and recognized the kids as people that we thought were of age.
LUDDEN: His staff also cuts off drunk students. Some have come back to thank them. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.