MADD urges safe spring break

By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
March 19, 2001

On the eve of spring break, when many college campuses empty as students seek tropical locals for a week of indulgence and excess, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is urging students to avoid binge drinking.

“Every year, college students spend about $5.5 billion dollars on alcohol — more than they spend on books, soda, coffee, juice and milk combined,” said Millie I. Webb, MADD national president.

The report, released by the MADD’s College Commission, shows that incidents of binge drinking are up, as is the number of college students who support tighter restrictions on drinking.

“We all must play a role in making campuses and communities safer,” Webb said, calling the problem of binge drinking on America’s campuses “chronic.”

In 1995 MADD expanded its activities to focus on the problem of collegiate binge drinking, and has released its report as part of that five-year initiative. The report will now be distributed to about 1,450 schools nationwide.

The organization’s College Commission also includes the formation of campus chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which will help to mobilize students and distribute posters and advertisements that will help dispel popular myths about campus drinking.

“High-risk drinking, drunk driving and other tragedies are often accepted as a way of life on college campuses, but there are many students like myself who are willing to speak out and get involved,” said Corrie Barnett, a Boston University student and president of the first college MADD chapter. “We hope to spark more interest on campus in our prevention efforts as we call on fellow students to be safe this Spring Break.”

“This new research illustrates that although excessive drinking is a perceived rite of passage in college, students are strongly in favor of stricter alcohol prevention policies,” said Sammy Quintana, chair of the MADD College Commission.

Given the number of student involved in binge drinking, what is startling in the report is a study released by the Education Development Center that showed strong student support for alcohol prevention policies. The report found student support on numerous nationwide campuses for: prohibition of kegs on campus, stricter penalties for students who repeatedly abuse campus alcohol policies or use of fake identifications, restriction of advertising that promotes consumption at on-campus parties and events, undercover operations at local bars, restaurants and liquor stores and making on-campus residences alcohol-free.

“It is interesting to note that although there is strong student support for alcohol prevention policies, most students believe there is very little support for such policies,” said Dr. William DeJong, director of the Center’s Social Norms Marketing Research Project. “These findings are consistent with a similar misperception among college students regarding their peers’ drinking behavior: a majority of students (89.2 percent) believes that drinking among their peers far exceeds actual drinking levels when students party.”

The report is more ammunition for groups that seek to curb college drinking. Almost one year ago a study by the Harvard School of Public Health reported in a survey that, “Despite several years of increasing efforts on the part of school administrations, binge drinking has remained constant while, alarmingly, the percentage of frequent binge drinkers among college students has gone up.”

The report also enumerated some of the “second-hand” effects of campus drinking.

Second-hand effects encompass things like arguments and physical fights on campuses, unwanted sexual advances and the interruption of study or sleep.

The MADD report described five remedies for the situation of college drinking. The recommendations including the creation of a “Honor Roll system” for evaluating efforts by colleges to curb on-campus drinking, increased student and organizational leadership, a Campus Alcohol Policies Panel that would work with researchers and practitioners to identify and set a national standard for college alcohol policies, and grassroots mobilization.

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