In the first three weeks of the spring semester, three GW students were hospitalized for alcohol-related illnesses, bringing the total to 25 this academic year, University administrators said.
The number of students hospitalized after becoming intoxicated last semester prompted students and faculty to consider preventative measures, said Senior Assistant Dean of Students Mike Walker.
“Unfortunately, we picked up where we left off,” Walker said.
As a result of the dramatic increase in student binge drinking from previous years, University officials have formed a task force made up of faculty and student leaders.
The mission of the task force is “to review GW’s responsibility to student alcohol use and abuse and to make recommendations regarding campus programs, policies and importance of related federal legislation,” Walker said.
The task force is considering the role solicitation from local bars and clubs plays in the misuse of alcohol, especially among underage students, he said.
Late last semester, some local bars and clubs that targeted GW students received violations from the city for serving underage drinkers and some closed down or closed their doors to people under age 21.
Candace Miller, who replaced Dana Henderson as manager of the Substance Abuse Prevention Center, said she wants to “challenge students to take a critical look at the alcohol messages they’re seeing or hearing.”
“I take a good 20 minutes every day taking down (alcohol-related) advertisements around campus,” she said.
She said colleges and universities around the country face serious drinking problems.
“It’s definitely a problem because (alcohol abuse) affects so many aspects of a student’s life,” Miller said. “The No. 1 reason students drop out is because of alcohol abuse.”
GW is no exception to the drinking culture pervading U.S. colleges and universities, she said.
“What I would suspect is the 22 were a minimum of occurrences,” said Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak. “That number is only those students treated in a GW facility. I would not limit the number to 22.”
Chernak said GW officials cannot quantify the number of students who became inebriated and stayed in so-called “safe houses,” places where friends watch the intoxicated student without risking punishment for violating the alcohol policy.
Last year, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology died in a “safe house” after abusing alcohol at a fraternity event. His parents recently appeared on ABC’s “20/20” to urge other parents to take action. Some GW parents say their greatest fear is losing their child to a “safe house.”
“One of the important things to remember is once (students) get drunk, they’re afraid to return to (residence halls) because of retribution, so they stay at some hole in the wall,” said a GW father who asked not to be identified. “They’re in the gravest danger during that time and often it’s semi-inebriated people caring for them.”
Chernak agreed that punishment scares many students.
“You don’t want punishment to be so punitive that students don’t get help if they need it,” he said.
He said the task force will consider student opinion when it makes final recommendations to the University.
A GW mother, who also asked not to be identified, said the recent federal legislation, which gives colleges and universities permission to contact parents when their child has violated alcohol-related rules, is important because parents should know what their child is doing.
The mother said parents need to remain involved in their child’s life even after they have left home for college.
Walker said the task force will look at the federal legislation to determine which violations are worthy of parental intervention. Currently, University officials call parents if their child has been hospitalized for abusing alcohol.
Walker said the task force will continue to meet until it considers the measures necessary to prevent students from abusing alcohol.
“We don’t want to be the next institution to lose a student,” Walker said.