Most colleges give their students a week off from classes in the spring to forget about the stress of schoolwork and blow off some steam after midterms.
As many students packed their bags in March to spend Spring Break 2006 at exotic vacation destinations, some were also planning to leave their inhibitions back at school, along with their textbooks.
Jacqueline Borgia, a senior kinesiology major, has taken spring break trips to the Bahamas, Mexico and, this year, Miami.
“Women are susceptible to a lot of dangers on spring break,” Borgia said. “Everyone has heard about Natalie Holloway. That’s a worst-case scenario, but it also served as an example for all of us.”
Spring break has a reputation as a time when excessive drinking leads to risky behaviors – especially for women. A recent poll by the American Medical Association found that an overwhelming majority of women ages 17-35 agree that spring break brings with it heavier drinking and increased promiscuity.
But not all women lose control when they swap their winter jackets and lap tops for bikinis and flip flops. Melissa Fink, a government and politics major and Sigma Delta Tau member at the University of Maryland, chose a beach trip with a small group of friends over a more popular spring break destination.
“By my senior year, I didn’t want to partake in a wild spring break. I wanted to enjoy it and remember it,” she said.
Fink is her sorority’s liaison for Greeks for a Better Community, a group at the University of Maryland that enforces the Greek community’s alcohol code.
“I think the Greek community is really focusing on the problem and trying to change the way students approach drinking,” she said.
According to the American Medical Association poll, 74 percent of women said they use drinking as an excuse for “outrageous behavior” – defined as sexual promiscuity coupled with unusually heavy drinking. 57 percent of the respondents said that promiscuity is “a way to fit in on spring break.”
The AMA has organized a coalition of campuses and their local communities to change how drinking is promoted to students on and around their campuses.
Richard Yoast, director of the group’s Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, said that college newspapers could stop publishing drink specials or allow spring break advertisements that use drinking as an enticement to stay on campus.
“Colleges can change the cues and influences to make it easier to engage in healthier behavior,” Yoast said.
Yoast said alcoholism was less common among college students in his own fraternity days, but also noted the effort of administrators and students in curbing the problem.
“They became self-perpetuated drinking clubs,” he said. “It’s hard to change because it’s why many of the members have joined but as students get older they don’t want to live in that environment and they make changes in the system.”