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Freshman Orientation introduces new alcohol approach


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Freshman Orientation this year will include a new presentation on alcohol in hopes it will encourage parent-student discussions on dangerous drinking, University of Iowa officials say.

The program will be an interactive question-and-answer session, including portions where students are asked to turn to their parents and chat about various topics for a few minutes at a time.

“We want to foster conversations they can have in the car on the way home,” Director of Assessment and Strategic Initiatives Sarah Hansen said. “We hope this will increase parent confidence and their ability to have effective conversations.”

The presentation won’t preach prohibition, said interim director of Orientation Jon Sexton. Instead, officials will spread the message of drinking responsibly (for those who choose to drink) while also offering nonalcoholic activities on campus and downtown as alternatives.

Before this year, alcohol discussions for students and parents occurred separately. Parents learned about various health issues, and Orientation staff answered questions from incoming students about myriad college transition topics, which included alcohol.

Regardless of the format, alcohol is a salient campus issue that administrators want to address, they said, and in an honest manner that promotes safety and alternative activities.

Dean of Students David Grady, who has served as the UI’s Dean of Students for about a year, said tweaking the alcohol discussion at orientation has been a plan of his for much of his tenure.

“We know it’s an important issue and my staff in my office that deals with student conduct sees a lot of students who get in trouble early on in their career as a result of poor choices, usually with alcohol,” Grady said. “If there are things we can do to see that students don’t jeopardize their time here at the university, that’s what we want to do.”

The revamped Orientation presentation is just the latest example of parents getting more involved in the UI’s efforts to reduce dangerous drinking.

Last week, parents of local junior-high and high-school students attended a forum on alcohol discussions at West High. The Partnership for Alcohol Safety — a coalition including university, city, and bar officials — organized the event.

In March, the UI Parents Association penned a letter to the Iowa City City Council in support of the 21-ordinance, which the council approved earlier this month.

Neither the University of Northern Iowa or Iowa State University have similar parent-student presentations.

However, Kristin Woods, coordinator of New Student Programs at UNI, said administrators plan to launch a new program this summer to review expectations of student conduct with incoming students, including rules and laws governing alcohol consumption.

At ISU, Associate Director of Admissions Phil Caffrey said Orientation staff don’t specifically address drinking, but they preface any questions about alcohol with the reminder that the legal drinking age is 21 and local and campus police don’t tolerate underage drinking.

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