It was a tough assignment, hitting the bars on O Street in Lincoln, Neb., all in the name of research on a project for their journalism class.
Seven Kansas University students and the professor of their Strategic Campaigns class recently returned from a trip to the University of Nebraska, hoping to learn how that city tackled problems associated with alcohol abuse.
“One of the most important things we learned was that this is going to be a long-term process,” KU senior Laura Ablan said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not even going to happen in the first couple of years.”
The students are working on a class project for their client, the KU Office of Student Success. They have to develop a campaign to establish a culture of responsible drinking at KU, following the alcohol-related deaths of two KU students last year. Students in the class also visited Colorado State University last week, and another group will be heading to the University of Virginia.
The students chose to make Nebraska one of their stops because Lincoln received a grant in 1998 to address problems such as underage drinking and binge drinking, and the city has had success.
Their trip also followed a comprehensive look at Lincoln’s alcohol policies by 6News and the Journal-World.
The students met with a number of people involved in changing students’ behavior toward alcohol in Lincoln, including the dean of student success and the chief of the campus police department.
The students also visited the health center, the school’s prevention center and attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. And they even had a drink or two, conducting research on whether they would be carded and to see how bar employees would treat them.
“Time and patience” was the main advice they received, said KU senior Liz Lembeck. “They all said they haven’t solved the problem. There’s always still people binge drinking. It took them four years to see any change and that was from freshmen to seniors. You just have to be patient and it’s not going to change overnight.”
The students said they noticed a much calmer bar scene in Lincoln, a greater police presence near the bars and stricter enforcement of drinking laws.
Bars in Lincoln receive stiff fines for serving underage drinkers or simply serving too much alcohol to someone.
The students also noticed that the bars close one hour earlier than in Lawrence, shutting down at 1 a.m., and they felt the drinks they ordered were mostly not as strong as those served at Lawrence bars.
“It was a lot more laid back,” Lembeck said of the bars in Lincoln. “People were just sitting there casually drinking. There were not as many shots. It was just a lot different, not as out of control as it is in Lawrence.”
The students hope to take what they learned, as well as what other students observe on their trips to other campuses, and develop a plan for KU. They will present it to university officials May 5.
“I would say the first step is we need to get the community’s backing,” Ablan said. “We definitely learned that nothing is going to change without the help of everyone in the community.”