Bender named UI alcohol liaison


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The University of Iowa has selected a new face to spearhead its program for alcohol-harm reduction.

Kelly Bender was appointed the UI’s first coordinator of Campus and Community Alcohol Harm Reduction Initiatives. UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin announced the appointment May 25.

Although Bender, formerly a prevention manager for the Mid-Eastern Council on Chemical Abuse, said she was enthusiastic about her new position, changing the university’s party-school reputation will not be an easy task.

“Drinking on college campuses has been around as long as we can remember,” she said. “We have to be honest with ourselves. We aren’t special. We face the same problems as other academic institutions.”

Bender will begin her new position June 20 and will earn an annual salary of $55,000.

“If you’re going to get something done, you need a strong leader figure for people to answer to,” Rocklin said.

Bender will be the point person for coordinating the UI’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Plan between the university and the community, answering directly to Rocklin.

Released last fall, the three-year plan aims to lower the UI’s binge-drinking rate by 15 percent — from 70 to 55.

Prior to her appointment, Bender helped coordinate the Partnership for Alcohol Safety in Iowa City.

Established in 2009, the partnership is an alliance of university officials and community members —including Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek and Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta —who promote the reduction of high-risk alcohol consumption.

The group is made up of several committees that oversee neighborhood outreach, downtown revitalization, and legislative policies related to alcohol issues.

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., said she believes Bender is right for the job. Cohen currently serves on the Legislative and Policy Solutions Committee, which Bender heads.

“The good part is that there’s one person who will head the various groups working for the same cause,” Cohen said.” We’ll get a lot more accomplished.”

Bender said support from students, law enforcement, and local businesses will be the key to changing preconceived notions about what characterizes high-risk behaviors.

Changing the way the community views high-risk drinking would not only limit the negative problems associated with alcohol consumption, she said, it could also bring about positive outcomes.

“The problems are why we are concerned,” she said. “If high-risk drinking didn’t bring any problems to the surface, the university wouldn’t have created this position. But the problems are very real. And they’re preventable. We’d save a lot of money as a community in heath care and law enforcement if we could reduce these problems.”

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