If you read the newspapers, you know that student drinking on college campuses is a serious national problem. Virginia, unfortunately, has been prominent in those news stories. And, at Virginia Tech, we have experienced intimately the tragedy and pain from student alcohol abuse. Last year, five Tech students died in alcohol related incidents.
If you have ever spoken to a parent who lost a child, you feel the grief. If you have ever spoken to a father, as I recently did, who lost his only child in an alcohol related accident, you share in the pain. A daughter is not supposed to die before her father.
Students have been drinking as long as there have been colleges, yet what we see today has more serious health implications, and I believe it is unlike the behavior of past generations. The Harvard School of Public Health reported that 44 percent of all college students are "binge" drinkers--drinking more than four or five drinks in a single sitting. Large universities often have high drinking rates; Virginia Tech is no exception.
I am very concerned, so concerned that I am personally working with our vice president for student affairs to beef up intervention and awareness programs. We already do a lot. We have long standing, award-winning awareness programs about the personal dangers of alcohol abuse.
The newest campaign, "Catch the Wave" is a series of media strategies aimed at focusing attention on the effects of high-risk drinking. One example--a poster campaign called "The Babysitters," uses peer pressure to dissuade friends from drinking. (In the Harvard study, more than 40 percent of students report having to care for or having sleep interrupted by drunken students. At Tech, even more students report such problems.)
Several fraternities will go dry this year; others are considering it. FarmHouse, Delta Sigma Phi, and Phi Delta Theta fraternities currently require their local organizations to have alcohol-free chapter facilities. Five others will follow suit in the next two years, and other national fraternities are expected to follow this trend. We support and encourage this.
Our new, highly acclaimed student orientation video frankly shares student grief from the loss of close friends in alcohol related auto accidents. An innovative, interactive CD ROM in which students can vicariously experience real-life situations was distributed to each campus dorm room.
Several years ago, we intensified enforcement of university policy--no drinking anywhere on campus if under 21. The state alcohol beverage control board intensified patrols in local bars and at home football games. We have tried numerous means to communicate to students not only the dangers of abuse, but our commitment to enforce our policies and the law.
A university task force plan looking at ways to further mitigate destructive drinking behaviors was recently approved by the board of visitors. The recommendations include extending enforcement of university policy relative to alcohol abuse off campus. We also will notify parents of students under age 21 of alcohol policy violations that result in suspension or deferred suspension.
Students will drink. We must, however, do everything in our power to teach students to obey the law and use responsible behavior. We think we can do better--we must do better--in reducing high-risk drinking behaviors. We have 25,000 students. Statistically, the odds are high that one or more will die for some reason during the year. But for me, one death from alcohol is too many.
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