Ruthie Braunstein/The Hoya Beer cans litter the Georgetown campus on an average Monday morning after a weekend’s worth of parties.

The university processes stacks and stacks of alcohol violations every year. Students serve hours upon hours of community service. Parents receive letters. The Department of Public Safety breaks up parties. The Metropolitan Police Department confiscates kegs.

Clearly, the university and city of Washington, D.C. do not condone illegal and excessive drinking on the Hilltop.

Drinking is a part of college life. Colleges nationwide tackle issues involving the use and abuse of alcohol every year, and Georgetown is no different.

“As a university we are very cognizant that students drink,” Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez said.

Georgetown recently conducted an alcohol survey with online pre-registration through Student Access, but, according to Gonzalez, the university is using the survey’s results to understand student behavior, not to set statistical goals. That means no goals such as bringing Georgetown’s students under the national average of almost nine drinks per week, as identified by a 1999 survey from the Core Institute, a non-profit organization whose main purpose is to assist colleges in drug and alcohol prevention efforts.

The university has other goals regarding its students and drinking, however. In order to fully understand how problematic students’ use and abuse of alcohol is, Georgetown needs to take a look at its own drinking scene and where it fits in to a national collegiate alcohol culture.

Numbers Policies

According to Patrick Kilcarr, the director of Georgetown’s Center for Personal Development, drinking impacts both the individual and the campus community. As the director of a center that helps students with health issues, Kilcarr is also familiar with the medical effects of binge drinking. While what is considered unhealthy for each individual is different, Kilcarr says binge drinking can be broadly defined as excessive drinking to a point where individuals lose control of themselves.

Kilcarr mentioned several potential health hazards related to excessive binge drinking including short term memory loss, alcohol poisoning, lower gastro-intestinal problems and cirrhosis of the liver.

“Blood-alcohol levels can get so steep that the central nervous system just shuts down,” he said.

Numerical goals may not be Georgetown’s priority, but looking at the numbers explains why the university considers alcohol abuse a major concern.

According to the Core Institute, 300,000 of today’s college students will eventually die of alcohol-related causes including drunk driving accidents, various cancers and heart disease. Georgetown may not aim to meet or beat the national averages, like having an underage drinking percentage under 63, the percent of underage students that reported drinking in the past 30 days in a Harvard University study printed in the July 2000 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. But the Harvard study’s numbers are certainly an eye-opener.

Safe, legal drinking, not specific numbers, are Georgetown’s goals. “I would just like to help students understand the consequences of drinking, the wisdom of moderation and the wisdom of safety,” Gonzalez said.

At least one expert maintains that universities have a tough time tackling this issue. According to Henry Wechsler, the director of college alcohol studies at the Harvard School of Public Health, there is no perfect solution to alcohol abuse among college students.

“There are no `best’ policies,” Wechsler said. “Partly because there has been very little scientific evaluation and partly because no single policy will take care of a complex problem.”

Administering and analyzing Georgetown’s online survey is an important step in the effort to find a working policy to understand and assuage the alcohol abuse and misuse of its students.

Gonzalez, who spearheaded the writing and presentation of the survey along with Kilcarr, expects the final written report of the results of the survey to be released within the next few weeks.

“We were trying to gauge students’ perceptions of themselves and of others,” Gonzalez said. “Typically, students self-assess themselves moderately and find that others are drinking excessively. They think `I have to drink to keep up’ or `I have to drink to be cool.'”

The Harvard study’s statistics show that underage college students drink less frequently than students over 21 years old, with 63 percent who reported drinking in the past 30 days. While 74 percent of the older students interviewed said they had drank in the past month, minor students drank more per occasion than students of age (42 percent had five or more drinks compared with 27 percent of the older students). Both statistics are of concern to Georgetown.

Georgetown views underage drinking as a problem and is well aware of the problem of over-consumption for students over 21 as well, according to Gonzalez

“The law specifically states that the drinking age is 21. Georgetown, as an institution, will not be ignoring that,” Gonzalez said. “The issue of over-consumption is also of concern . After one or two drinks, alcohol stops being a `social lubricant’ and becomes a problem.”

According to the Harvard study, events that charge an admission fee that entitles guests to unlimited drinks should also be targeted, since surveyed students who received drinks for a set price were more likely to binge. Establishments with deals that allow “bottomless glasses,” as Gonzalez calls all-you-can-drink specials, are of specific concern to the university.

“Bars encourage underage drinking with lax identification policies and `bottomless glass’ specials,” he said. “It is almost with intent [that some bars allow underage drinking]. They get [students] to drink to unsafe levels.”

A Look to the Future

But Gonzalez thinks that times will change around the district.

In fact, a new MPD initiative known as Stopping Underage Drinking, or SUDs, is set to be launched against underage drinking and the use of false identification at bars and liquor stores in the district. The plan will feature four specific aspects including the use of undercover officers posing as bouncers and customers to curtail both underage individuals from drinking and establishments from selling to underage people.

David Nelson, general manager of Rhino’s Bar and Pumphouse on M Street, said it was not in Rhino’s best interest to comment about how the campaign will affect business at Rhino’s.

Also, new alcohol laws in the district threaten to give the Alcohol Beverage Control board increased rights of investigation, as well as increased penalties to liquor stores and bars that serve to underage drinkers. The D.C. Council is currently debating over just how much latitude police and ABC investigators should have and how stiff penalties should be for those found in violation of laws preventing the sale of alcohol to minors.

Nadine J. Parker, who directs the National Capital Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking, which is dedicated to preventing and reducing underage drinking in and around Washington, D.C., opposes any attempt to lessen the penalties inflicted on violators with new legislation being discussed by the D.C. Council.

“There need to be strong penalties, not a slap on the wrist,” Parker told The Washington Post in a Jan. 11 article.

The city of Boston is a few years further along in the process of an alcohol crackdown than the district, and college students in the area have felt the effects.

When Massachusetts Institute of Technology freshman Scott Krueger died of alcohol poisoning in the fall of 1997, the university came under nationwide scrutiny and, as a result, took steps to drastically change its social landscape.

One week after the tragedy, the Boston Globe described the area surrounding MIT as a frenzied environment. “In this teeming college town, at any given moment on any given weekend, there is a party to be had. There’s an empty cup to fiddle with until you reach the flowing keg at the start of the line, and when the keg runs dry, there’s a bouncer who will hold what he knows is a fake ID up to the light and let you in anyway,” the Globe reported.

The times have changed in four short years, as local authorities have made a concerted effort to crack down on underage and binge drinking.

Even timeless traditions in Boston are being targeted by the anti-drinking campaign. Recently, Dean of the College at Harvard University Harry R. Lewis implemented a ban on keg beer at the Harvard-Yale football game dubbed “The Game” and famed for being an annual celebration of the ultimate Ivy League rivalry.

Students at Harvard have accepted the new Boston and a Harvard drinking culture. Opposed to the ban but accepting of a post-Kreuger, concerned Boston, The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, explained its opinion of Lewis’ ban in a recent editorial.

The Harvard Crimson wrote, “If the university is serious about cutting down on underage and excessive drinking, it should institute a drinking-awareness program in the weeks before The Game. Excessive drinking is a real problem at The Game, but a ban on kegs is unlikely to help,” on Jan. 8

Georgetown has experienced similar alcohol policy changes. Keg beer was banned from the annual homecoming tailgate parties in 1999, but the citywide shakedown on false identification and sales of alcohol to minors in Boston has not yet occurred in Washington, D.C.

Drinking Elsewhere

While Georgetown’s peers in Boston have witnessed the effects of a city in transition, many universities are at different phases of conquering the problems involved with collegiate drinking culture.

“I suspect we are right in the norm,” Gonzalez said.

Administrators at the University of Pennsylvania, which has a pan-Hellenic system, see that their numbers compare favorably to national averages but suffer from the visibility of problem drinkers. According to Stephanie Ives, alcohol policy coordinator at Penn, Penn students compare moderately to national averages with the average student drinking one or fewer times per week and consuming four or fewer drinks per night.

“Unfortunately, we have a community of students who drink heavily and are very visible,” Ives said. “They get a lot of attention, but overall our students are low risk, safe drinkers.”

That’s not the case at every university.

Students who have seen alcohol tendencies at Georgetown and at larger state schools see a difference in the propensity toward a destructive drinking culture.

Peter Kim (MSB ’02) transferred from Pennsylvania State University to Georgetown last year. “There is a lot more binge drinking going on at Penn State,” he said. “Kids get a whole lot crazier there. I think kids are more in control here than at Penn State.”

Kim and fellow transfer Jim Barnes (MSB ’03), who came to Georgetown from the University of Virginia, agree that having fraternity houses as central locations for campus parties contributes to an alcohol culture more detrimental than that at Georgetown.

“Parties are a lot bigger at UVA,” Barnes said. “When you go [where the fraternity houses are] there are a lot of houses, and they all have a lot of kegs and a lot of people.”

At Penn State, fraternities enable underage students’ drinking according to Kim. “Fraternities are there to let kids who aren’t 21 have a good time. Underage kids at Georgetown drink, but it’s not as easy as at a state school,” he said.

Drinking at Georgetown occurs on and off campus, but without fraternities and sororities, organized drinking may never reach the levels it does at schools with prominent Greek scenes.

“Students who live in fraternity or sorority houses have the highest rates of binge drinking,” Wechsler said. “Almost four in five binge drink. Unless we face up to this, the problem will remain.”

Lehigh University has a thriving Greek system. With 27 active fraternities and nine sororities on campus, the school has faced the issues of keeping a Greek system and maintaining a safe drinking culture.

“People don’t see the consequences like the sophomore who flunks out of school or the young woman who was date raped,” Lehigh President Gregory C. Farrington said in an address to students at the beginning of this academic year. “If we don’t take reasoned steps to fix this, we won’t have [a] Greek life [that is successful].”

Students in fraternities and sororities at Lehigh face added pressures to do their drinking in moderation. In 1996, Lehigh received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to “promote a healthier living and learning environment on campus.” The grant, called Project IMPACT, has been in place to curb binge drinking and unsafe drug habits since its inception.

“The goal of Project IMPACT is to lessen the amount of binge drinking occurring campus-wide, not just at fraternities, in order to make it a safer place for everyone,” said Jon Trenkle, member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and vice president of Lehigh’s Inter-Fraternity Council. “In the journey to this goal, Lehigh’s administration has placed new regulations into effect that alter the facade of social events held at fraternities.”

In 1999, Project IMPACT ruled that all Lehigh fraternity parties must have two security guards, trained bartenders, attractive and sufficient food and non-alcoholic beverages. The crackdown was made with the aim of limiting the freedom and authority of fraternities to continue their traditions, according to Trenkle.

But restricting one aspect of a college’s drinking culture is not enough. Alcohol abuse and binge drinking still takes place at Lehigh, just not in the same public spheres.

“The one area Project IMPACT fails to address is the off campus drinking that happens,” Trenkle said.

Georgetown experiences the same alcohol woes as its peer institutions. The university recognizes a visible binge drinking community and considers its existence a significant problem.

“The national trend shows that more students are abstaining,” Gonzalez said. “Less students are binge drinking; however, 16 to 18 percent admit to binge drinking. That’s a lot, and it draws some level of concern.”

Gonzalez, Wechsler and the statistics certainly agree that binge drinkers are the targeted elements of the drinking culture. “This group, 23 percent of all students, consumes 72 percent of all the alcohol college students drink and accounts for three fifths of all the serious alcohol problems,” Wechsler said.

According to the July 2000 Harvard study, effective controls on price, access, organized parties and reinforcement of minimum drinking age laws are needed to reduce the high levels of binge drinking and related health and behavioral problems of students.

Georgetown, like its peers and experts, understands the existence of problems involving alcohol on its campus and campuses around the nation.

The university concerns itself foremost with helping its students, rather than focusing its energy on the negative habits of a minority of its students. “Look at why we are here – to help students develop, learn and grow,” Gonzalez said.

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