University releases recommendations to end high-risk drinking

Michael Bragg

Appalachian State University released a list of recommendations to help inform students and the community about the high-risk drinking culture surrounding the university.

The 61 recommendations include an educational, public health, intervention and treatment, law enforcement section and normative environment section. The recommendations were decided at an alcohol summit held March 1 between students, community and university members.

“Part of it was to have a very frank conversation about how we could deal with the problem of high-risk drinking on our campus differently,” said Cindy Wallace, vice chancellor of student development. “It certainly was based on growing data and hard facts of where this problem is not getting better on our campus.”

While many of the recommendations will not be implemented until classes start, Wallace said the university changed parts of orientation for freshmen and transfer students to have more direct conversations about high-risk drinking.

The changes included added training for Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders, a new skit in the orientation performance “Risque Business” that directly involves alcohol use and a more honest conversation from Dean of Students J.J. Brown and Associate Dean of Students Judy Haas for both parents and students during orientation, Wallace said.

“We tried to be very direct with parents about that,” she said. “We looked at real examples of citations that went through our residence hall program or through our university police. We looked at blood-alcohol levels that were increasingly high, to a dangerous level, and just incidents of alcohol consumption to a high-risk level in the residence halls with underage drinkers.”

The university also plans to add changes to Welcome Week and tailgating to promote alcohol-free options around campus.

Previously-used campaigns will also be extended to cover high-risk drinking or drug use.

“We want to extend the message of ‘It’s Up to Me,’” Wallace said. “That was a lot targeted at interpersonal violence and a lot of that activity on this campus is the result of alcohol and drug use and so it’s all very much related.”

Community efforts
While many of the efforts are taking place on campus, Watauga County groups, such as the Watauga Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, are working with the university to help end high-risk drinking.

The coalition and the university are working to map where and when the most drinking citations occur in order to add law enforcement and create awareness campaigns for students about these areas. The goal is to help students make safer decisions, said Kendal McDevitt, Appalachian’s wellness promotion coordination.

McDevitt, who also works as a liaison between the community and university, said while all drinking citations in the town are not from students, the majority of them are.

The coalition and university are also working to add more alcohol purchase surveys in the area.

To complete an alcohol purchase survey, an Appalachian student over the age of 21 goes to a restaurant or bar and orders alcohol. If the business checks the student’s identification card, the business gets a certificate of appreciation from the coalition. If the business does not, the coalition sends a letter acknowledging that the student’s ID was not properly checked.

The university is looking for more students to help with the alcohol purchase survey McDevitt said. Students are paid for their efforts.

Training servers at restaurants is also an effective way to help with high-risk and underage drinking. Workers are taught how to identify fake ID’s and when to stop serving alcohol to someone who is too intoxicated, McDevitt said.

Need for changes
The number one reason for these changes in the safety of students and the community, McDevitt said.

“Underage drinking and high-risk drinking is responsible for injuries and often times, alcohol is used by a perpetrator as a tool for sexual assault,” she said.

High-risk and underage drinking also lowers the quality of life for everyone, not just those directly involved.

“There are lots of secondhand consequences for drinking,” McDevitt said. “It’s almost like secondhand smoke.”

This includes litter, vomiting inside a residence hall or waking up neighbors, she said.

The age of brain development also proves to be a health-risk for college-aged adults, she said. The frontal cortex of the brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.

“So basically, with underage drinking, alcohol stunts the growth of the brain,” McDevitt said.

Fighting the ultimate consequence
Death caused by alcohol use is a huge — and the most sad — concern for the university, McDevitt said.

High-risk drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, a drunk driving car accident or an injury that causes death, she said.

McDevitt said she thinks alcohol played a role in the death of former Appalachian student Tyler Blalock in October 2012. Tyler was “very intoxicated” when he fell into Kraut Creek on campus and drowned, according to an article from The Appalachian.

Since Tyler’s death, his mother, Lynn Blalock, has worked in the community to ensure the safety of other students.

“Essentially, she’s going to tell her story and Tyler’s story,” McDevitt said.

Lynn has worked to help train student leaders about alcohol use. She will also write an open letter to students and speak with parents in the fall, McDevitt said.

“A lot of people think [underage drinking] is a moral issue and say ‘If I can fight for my country at 18, I should be able to drink,’” McDevitt said. “But that’s not the issue. It’s really just a safety issue for our students.”

Story: CHELSEY FISHER, Senior News Reporter