WASHINGTON – Western Maryland College has implemented alcohol abuse prevention education programs and offered alternative activities such as alcohol-free events in attempt to reduce alcohol abuse.
But counselor Kate Moncure said, “It hasn’t made a difference.”
“Yes, college students drink. College students here drink. College students here drink a lot,” said college spokesman Don Schumaker.
Western Maryland College is not alone. Across Maryland, campus officials said they welcome ideas on how to fight the stubborn problem of binge drinking.
A study released Tuesday by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said college students across the country are still binge drinking.
The report said 1,400 college students die from alcohol-related injuries each year and 400,000 have unprotected sex while intoxicated. It also said 2.1 million students drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year.
There are 2,600 colleges and universities in the nation and estimated 8.1 million college students between the ages of 18 and 24.
The statistics hit home recently in Maryland when a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, died after a night of heavy drinking at a fraternity house that has since been forced off campus.
“We, like every university, would like to find solutions to alcohol abuse,” said George Cathcart, a spokesman on the College Park campus. “We’ve certainly had our own problems here.”
College officials across the state said they have taken various approaches to curb student drinking, but few have proven effective.
“We’ve been trying to figure out what to do about it for years,” said Dorothy Sheppard, the associate dean of students at Johns Hopkins University. She said student abuse of alcohol has not gotten any worse, but the problem has not improved either.
Frostburg State University recently started a campaign to curb student binge drinking, providing alcohol-free activities and publicizing statistics that show that not all students choose to drink.
“Sometimes they fall in deaf ears,” said Frostburg spokesman Ty DeMartino.
Towson University also recently ran ads and comic strips in the school paper showing the only about 40 percent of students reported drinking at least once a week. Bill Everett, coordinator for off-campus student services, said that while students have noticed the ads, many do not believe the statistics.
Everett, who is also a member of the substance education concerns committee at the school, said it is hard to tell if the campaign is having any effect.
“What’s sad about it is that even though it comes from the students, other students want to know who was polled. They’ll say, `I didn’t do that survey,'” he said.
Many college officials said peer education is the best way to get through to students. While it does not change their attitudes about drinking or make them stop, it does teach them to drink more responsibly.
Sheppard said that is the situation at Hopkins, where small-scale education programs in the dorms do not necessarily tell the students not to drink, but tell them what can happen if they choose to drink. More importantly, she said, the resident assistants running the programs tell students how to handle a situation when someone drinks too much and needs medical attention.
Salisbury University has implemented various alcohol abuse programs based on the recommendations of a 1997 task force. It will conduct surveys next fall to see if the efforts have had any success, said Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Barry King.
“I think schools, Salisbury included, have been much more systematic in addressing the problem,” King said. “To what effect is the question.”
Salisbury senior and peer educator Cem Sakarya said most freshmen have been to a party by the third week of school, so he likes to meet with them then. When he does, he bolsters the statistics with role-playing that helps demonstrate the risks of sexually transmitted diseases or of becoming a victim of sexual assault.
“When I come in and give them a situation, 90 percent of those people can relate to it,” Sakarya said.
While peer educator programs are in place at most colleges, many officials said they are still looking for better solutions to the problem.
“We are constantly open to new alternatives to reach the students who are making dangerous choices,” DeMartino said.
The dean of student development at Mount St. Mary’s College said the only way to stop alcohol abuse among college students is to “have our own students confront the misuse of alcohol with their peers.
“When we can get to a point when the norms on campus say it is not cool and not acceptable to misuse alcohol, that comes from the students,” Michael Zoll said. “That’s what we’re really trying to light a fire under here.
“I would not kid you, it’s an uphill battle,” he said.