Alcohol Task Force clarifies recommendations

Brittany Amerson, Evergreen reporter

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The findings and recommendations for the upcoming year were presented by the Presidential Task Force on Prevention and Education for Alcohol and Other Drugs in a meeting with the Board of Regents.

The task force completes four phases in finding potential solutions to underage and binge drinking, they told the Board at a meeting Sept. 5.

“WSU is pretty typical for universities of its size and character for rates of binge drinking. We are right on the national average in this sense,” Health and Wellness Services Executive Director Bruce Wright said.

The only difference is extremity of binge drinking taking place at WSU. Students are consuming extreme amounts of alcohol resulting in a very high blood alcohol level, he said. Drinking alcohol along with consuming energy drinks, painkillers and stimulants have also increased in popularity.

An increasing number of students report to Pullman Regional Hospital with life-threatening blood alcohol levels of over .25, according to the PRH Emergency Department.

Phase one of the task force’s plan to find solutions for binge drinking includes analyzing data involving alcohol and drug-related problems in Pullman. Phase two involves reviewing current WSU policies, programs and efforts to identify which ones are successful.

From there, phase three reviews the current ideas targeting alcohol and drug-related problems and deciding which ones to adopt in addition to current efforts. Submitting a formal list of recommendations to President Floyd is the final phase.

The current recommendations of the task force include focusing on bystander intervention, implementing the Red Watch Program and enhancing Mental Health First Aid training for faculty and students.

“If one student sees another student who is really out of shape, then they should be able to call for help without being charged with a misdemeanor themselves,” Board Chair Constance Niva said of the Cougs Looking Out for Cougs campaign. “Students really are the best judges of who needs some help.”

The Green Dot program also falls under bystander intervention. The program is a one-day course that teaches students how to intervene when they see someone in a potentially dangerous situation.

The task force also wants to focus on freshman specifically, as they are at the highest risk for alcohol-related harm.

According to the National College Health Association, WSU freshman are significantly more likely to experience alcohol-related harm, and freshman are twice as likely to report experiencing physical and sexual violence or stalking compared to other undergraduates.

The task force also decided to keep Booze, Sex, and Reality Checks (BSRC), the required freshman program, and potentially phase it into Alive! sessions.

According to a campus-wide BSRC survey, the percentage of freshmen who abstain from alcohol has increased to 34 percent compared to last year’s 28 percent. Additionally, the number of freshmen who engaged in high-risk drinking or experienced harm related to the use of alcohol has decreased.

As a part of protecting freshmen, the task force is considering making certain residence halls completely substance and alcohol free, regardless of the residents’ ages.

Sophomore history major Cody Layton expressed his concerns with making residence halls substance and alcohol free.

“I think if people are of age they should be able to do the things the law allows them to do,” Layton said.

The task force also recommended eventually phasing out students from living in Greek chapter houses their first year.

At WSU, students in the Greek community drink significantly more often and are about twice as likely to experience harmful consequences and impaired academic performance as a result of drinking, Wright said.

According to the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, 18 out of 18 Greek chapters have received some type of sanction for an alcohol violation over the past year.

Layton is also a Sigma Pi Fraternity member and expressed doubts about potentially not allowing freshmen to move into their Greek houses.

“If WSU does stop freshmen from moving in their first year, the students are missing a valuable experience,” Layton explained. “These guys are your brothers for life, and if they don’t live in they miss living with guys that are graduating or moving out the next year.”

Niva explains that no recommendations are set in stone yet.

“University changes move very slowly, that’s just the nature of it,” Niva said. “There will be a lot more conversation about these, but I’m glad it’s happening, and it’s a conversation that needs to happen.”