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Archive for Sunday, August 15, 1999

UNIVERSITY CHANGING ITS TUNE ABOUT ALCOHOL USE

August 15, 1999

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Instead of a negative approach to alcohol, Kansas University is teaching of-age students what it means to drink responsibly.

Wagging fingers about alcohol use on university campuses hasn't seemed to work.

So Kansas University is trying a kinder, gentler approach.

Unveiled this summer at new-student orientation, the "social norms model" focuses on what's important to many college students -- what their peers are doing.

Instead of telling of-age students "no, no, no," the university is giving them information about what it means to drink reasonably.

KU -- as well as Emporia State University and Fort Hays State University -- received a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to implement a model developed at Northern Illinois University.

"That model is called the social norms model," said Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, principal investigator for the grant. "It's based on years of social psychology research. The basic assumption is that most people want their behavior to match what their peer group's behavior is. Interestingly, most students think their peers are drinking a lot more than their peers really are."

KU will use its $450,000 four-year grant for a media blitz promoting a common-sense approach to drinking.

"It doesn't get into scare tactics," McCluskey-Fawcett said. "The data are pretty clear that the scare tactics don't work."

Where the model has been used -- at Northern Illinois University and the University of Arizona -- irresponsible drinking has decreased by 20 percent to 40 percent, said McCluskey-Fawcett, associate provost at KU.

"Apparently Missouri is starting the model," she added. "At the moment it seems to be the only thing that's making a difference."

KU participated in a Joint City-University Task Force, which met for six months. The group included representatives from KU, Haskell Indian Nations University, the Lawrence school district and the Douglas County district attorney's office as well as bar owners and students.

The diverse group made its final report and recommendations in December to KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Haskell President Bob Martin, the school district and the city commission.

The task force learned that students don't learn to drink on campus. By the time they get to KU, many already have taken that first drink.

Although KU cannot share its grant money with Haskell or the school district, it will share its ideas, and progress on campus should spread, said Jeff Weinberg, assistant to the chancellor.

"Any concerted efforts that are made to deal with the problem of alcohol on the KU campus will have an indirect effect on the entire community," he said. "We'll be in conversation with our colleagues. There are going to be some side effects of what we're doing."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.



In December, a Joint City-University Task Force, made several suggestions to curb irresponsible drinking. The suggestions include that:

  • All people employed to serve or sell alcoholic beverages should be trained and licensed.
  • The school district should institute health education instruction specifically focusing on alcohol abuse.
  • Establishment of a treatment and detoxification center within the community should be explored.
  • Alternative events for people who are underage should be encouraged.
  • A fine of $300 for the first conviction of any minor in possession of alcohol -- and a higher fine of $500 for subsequent convictions -- should be established.
  • More publicity should be given to $500 rewards for people who provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone caught selling fake identification to minors.
  • The university should implement sanctions for students who persistently violate legal or university rules regarding alcohol.
  • Minors' access to alcohol at private house parties should be reduced.
  • Safe Ride and other means of transportation should be promoted.

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