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Rocklin: UI has no qualms with legal, responsible drinking

BY TOM ROCKLIN - GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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Approximately a quarter of the undergraduates at the UI report having suffered physical injury as a result of their alcohol use within the last year. About half report blacking out, around a quarter had unprotected sex, and approximately 3 percent had sex without giving consent. That’s only a sample of the many ways in which alcohol use harms our students.

I know some of you are thinking “Well, that’s just part of college life.” It is, and it isn’t.

While blacking out, getting injured, having unprotected sex, and having sex without giving consent (i.e., being raped) probably happen on every college campus, the best data we have suggest that they happen more than one-and-a-half times more commonly here at the UI than the national average.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The SoBar Experience (The Daily Iowan, Jan. 25) demonstrates something that I have always known — many students know how to have a good time while drinking responsibly or not drinking at all.

Here’s a little-known fact: The UI has absolutely no objection to the legal, responsible use of alcohol. Our goal has long been to protect the health and safety of our students. Too many of our students drink on too many occasions in ways that are too risky. Everything we do related to alcohol is designed to reduce those numbers and protect the health and safety of students.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board has described our approach as prohibition, and it’s easy for me to understand why it sometimes looks as though we oppose all alcohol use by students. Indeed, there are some contexts in which we prohibit alcohol.

For example, we don’t allow alcohol in our residence halls because the vast majority of the students living there are not old enough to drink legally. Allowing alcohol in that context would be inconsistent with the idea of responsible, legal use.

Our policy also generally prohibits student groups from having alcohol at activities that are attended by underage students. But this is a context in which it might be possible to provide the opportunity for safe, legal consumption. Last fall, I allowed, as an exception, UISG and Hawks Nest to offer beer for sale at a tailgate party in the IMU when the Hawks played at Ohio State.

The students made arrangements that persuaded me that whatever consumption took place would be legal and responsible. More than 200 people attended. Some had a beer or two; others chose to just enjoy the free nonalcoholic beverages. Except for the overtime loss on the field, it was a wonderful event.

I’m all for students having a good time, and I have no objection to alcohol being a part of that — so long as the alcohol is used responsibly and legally. Events such as the SoBar Experience and the Ohio State tailgate party demonstrate students’ ability to have a responsible relationship with alcohol and give me the evidence I need to continue to (slowly and cautiously) experiment with our policies.

The only way we are going to reduce the number of Hawkeye students hurt by their use of alcohol is by working together. If you have ideas for ways we can move the alcohol culture at the UI closer to the national norm, I would love to hear them. My e-mail address is thomas-rocklin@uiowa.edu, and I’m waiting to hear from you.

Tom Rocklin is the UI interim vice president for Student Services.


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