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Frosh alcohol education class not seen soon

BY JORDAN FRIES | DECEMBER 11, 2009 7:30 AM

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Discovering new ways to educate students on alcohol safety has been classified as a “public-health issue affecting the entire community” by UI Provost Wallace Loh.

But the university must overcome a variety of roadblocks — including teacher shortages and a lack of finances — before mandating an in-person alcohol-education class for incoming freshmen, Loh said.

Though he said he would like to implement an in-person class in the future, he doesn’t envision being able to require such a class for at least another year.

AlcoholEdu, a two-part online course required for all first-year UI students, beginning in 2006, has been a success, said program director Angela Reams, and participants have reported consuming less alcohol after taking the class. But Loh still believes a more comprehensive curriculum is necessary.

“I’m very committed to having a class of this nature on a mandatory basis for all first-year students,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But I don’t decide the curriculum. A faculty group has to decide whether to include more alcohol-safety education, either as a separate class or embedded with a current first-year course.”

The UI already offers Alcohol and Your College Experience, the only alcohol-education elective available to all students. Tanya Villhauer, an associate director of Student Health, started the course in 2005.

She said the eight-week class, which satisfies a general-education requirement in health and physical activity, offers four sections of 20 students each semester.

Though she said she’d like to expand that number, Villhauer said a required class isn’t feasible.

“How many instructors would have to teach this class, then?” she said. “We can’t cram 100 students into one classroom. It would still have to be 20 students per teacher, and that’s putting a lot of strain on the educator.”

Victoria Sharp, the UI special assistant to the provost on alcohol safety, said school officials shouldn’t clutter students’ minds with more class requirements and prerequisites. But she supports expanding Villhauer’s class sections, she said.

Alcohol and Your College Experience Today offers a solid template for the possible formation of a required alcohol-education course, she said.

“It’s a very positive class for both drinkers and nondrinkers alike,” Sharp said. “Students are able to discuss the drinking culture with their peers instead of being force-fed information.”

Students are split on the issue. UI freshman Tom Ferenac thinks that “AlcoholEdu has the issue covered,” and junior Bridget Cooney disagrees.

“I would definitely support a required in-person class on alcohol education,” she said. “It would give freshmen a good understanding of the responsibility that comes with drinking.”

Whether the UI mandates an alcohol class, Loh said, it will require other efforts to confront drinking problems on campus and in Iowa City. This includes bar owners training their servers and faculty raising academic standards, he said.

“Making a decision without engaging the residents of Iowa City would make no sense,” he said.


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