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New alcohol presentation at freshman orientation a positive approach

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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Responsibility starts with information.

That’s why we support the university’s new freshman Orientation alcohol presentation, which will bring two of the most important stakeholders — students and parents — into the alcohol conversation from the beginning.

In the past, alcohol discussions at Orientation involving students and parents were held separately. With the switch, University of Iowa officials are attempting to spur discussion between incoming students and parents on alcohol issues.

“We want to foster conversations they can have in the car on the way home,” Sarah Hansen, the director of assessment and strategic initiatives, told The Daily Iowan. “We hope this will increase parent confidence and their ability to have effective conversations.”

Jonathan Sexton, the interim director of Orientation Services, told The Daily Iowan that the new alcohol discussion will not preach prohibition but will preach responsibility and safety.

It’s a smart approach.

According to Students Against Destructive Decisions, three out of four students drank alcohol by the time they left high school. The group also reports that young adults 18 to 22 enrolled in college full-time are more likely to use alcohol, drink heavily, and binge drink than their counterparts who do not enroll in college.

Drinking is a cultural norm in America. Among college-age adults, consuming alcohol is even more of a norm. These basic facts should always inform the UI’s policies regarding alcohol education.

So while we’ve objected to university efforts to stem dangerous drinking in the past, we applaud officials’ realistic approach to the problem. Providing incoming students with the information to make smart alcohol decisions — rather than simply implementing harsh penalties — is the right approach.

Thankfully, at least a few university officials understand that the best alcohol education happens between parents and students. We praise this approach, because it strengthens what parents should have been doing all along with their children.

Earlier this year, the UI Parents Association announced its support for the 21-ordinance. While we think parents’ support for the ordinance is reasonable given the current legal drinking age, we prefer the thinking behind the new Orientation program. Promoting parent-student dialogue encourages active parenting, as opposed to parental passivity and university policing.

Coupling alcohol information with parental dialogue helps put a face on responsible consumption, and parents could provide their own warnings and information regarding drinking. Consequences for irresponsible drinking mean more if parents are empowered to hold their children accountable, rather than a large and impersonal university continually holding students accountable for their drinking habits.

Admittedly, the alcohol presentation is no panacea. Binge drinking rates won’t plummet, and students will continue to overconsume. But it will help foster the kind of dialogue vital to changing long-term student behavior.

Getting parents involved in encouraging students to make safe choices is a thoughtful, reasonable approach.


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