Alcohol consumption in sights of city, UI

BY TESSA McLEAN | MARCH 30, 2009 7:40 AM

Imagine heading downtown on a Friday for a night out with friends. Now, imagine it without any alcohol.

While most UI students head to the bars to socialize on the weekends, drinking is a large part of their evenings. UI officials, students, and Iowa City community members who met March 27 at the Partnership for Alcohol Safety Summit considered several options attempting to change student drinking patterns.

The event consisted of several brainstorming sessions in which attendees identified key priorities and suggestions on how to curb binge drinking. Having downtown bars host an alcohol-free night once a month was one of many options discussed.

“It’s refreshing to come to a meeting where the emphasis isn’t underage drinking,” said Mike Porter, who owns three downtown bars. “You’re not going to stop 19- and 20-year-old adults from drinking. The problem is overconsumption.”

Other ideas included building a movie theater or a bowling alley downtown, adding a committee of students to plan more nonalcoholic events, and re-evaluating junior-high curricula to educate kids about alcohol abuse earlier.

Nearly 70 people attended the summit, in which the objectives identified were submitted to the recently established Alcohol Steering Committee. The 23-person committee — chaired by UI Provost Wallace Loh and Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey — plans to meet quarterly, said Victoria Sharp, the UI special assistant to the provost on alcohol safety.

UI Student Government President Maison Bleam told attendees keeping students involved and a part of the process is the only way to see changes in the community.

“I encourage the steering committee to empower students to be a part of this initiative,” he said. “If students don’t buy into it, it will fail.”

UI students engage in binge drinking at rates far surpassing the national average, according to studies by Peter Nathan, a UI professor emeritus of community and behavioral health. Seventy percent of UI students engaged in high-risk drinking in the past two weeks in comparison with 44 percent of college students nationally.

UI President Sally Mason noted excessive drinking puts Iowa City’s reputation at stake.

“We face an uphill battle,” she said. “It is our responsibility, and we will only fulfill it if we work together.”

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