University confronts underage drinking

Despite a string of alcohol-related incidents this semester, the 15 percent of GW students who actually binge drink is well below the national average of 42 percent, said Dana Henderson, manager of GW’s Substance Abuse Prevention Center.

Henderson, who officially resigned from the center Friday to pursue a consulting job, said the center has recently instituted several programs that have helped increase awareness of the dangers of student drinking.

“What we’re finding is that more students at GW are not drinkers,” said Mark Levine, assistant dean of students in the Community Living and Learning Center.

The Student Peer Interactive Resource and Intervention Team (SPIRIT) that was created at the end of last year and implemented this semester, is a peer group of students who promote alternatives to alcohol and drugs.

Jeff Marootian, co-coordinator of SPIRIT, said the program is student-run but receives support from the administration.

“We want to incorporate as many new freshmen into the program to let them know it’s open to programming ideas,” Marootian said. “Peers learn best from other peers.”

Marootian, a sophomore, said he became involved in the program to learn about issues that affect college students. He said he was attracted to SPIRIT because it does not preach to students about the truth.

Henderson said the low percentage of GW students who are considered binge drinkers is testimony to the type of students GW attracts.

“GW students don’t prefer to spend their time drinking but focus on their academic prowess,” she said.

Henderson said the recent alcohol-related incidents on campus are symptomatic of other national issues.

“It’s not too hard to figure out that things going on around the country are coming GW’s way,” she said. “Fortunately, no deaths have occurred.”

Student riots at several universities, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Virginia, have come about as a result of campuses setting more stringent policies on drinking. Henderson said GW is not necessarily taking a tougher approach to underage drinking, but a different approach.

Other programs include the March Mad Mix-Off, a competition in which students “mixed up” unique non-alcoholic beverages. The Riverside Caf?, held once a month, offers students a coffeehouse alternative to drinking with music and poetry readings. Both events have had high turnouts, Levine said.

The search for a replacement for Henderson is underway, and Levine said the program will continue to build upon the strong foundation and leadership left by Henderson.

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