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Iowa City deserves an unique drinking plan

BY REBECCA ABELLERA | APRIL 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Although the Partnership for Alcohol Safety has made a genuine effort to help keep students safe in Iowa City, it takes a huge risk by tinkering with the delicate ecosystem that is the University of Iowa campus. The panel members must think strategically and consider all possible outcomes of the changes they make.

It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of the group's efforts. It is heavily involved on and off the campus with goals of keeping students safe when it comes to alcohol consumption. This cookie-cutter goal apparently comes with a cookie-cutter approach.

"[Our goal is to] move toward a healthier relationship with alcohol, where high-risk drinking is not seen as a normal, expected, or necessary part of the college experience and where fewer people experience problems as a result of high-risk drinking either because of their own drinking or because of drinking by other people," Kelly Bender, the campus-community alcohol-harm reduction coordinator, said.

But isn't that what could potentially cause these initiatives to crash and burn? If the alcohol panel wants to make a real change in Iowa City binge drinking, it will have to tailor a program that parallels the uniqueness of the town.

Such a rigid structure has had a quite an effect on party-goers. Underage students looking to drink choose one of two paths, invest in a fake ID or hit up a house party (note that neither of these options is to not drink at all).

Incidence of fake-ID possession has increased significantly in Iowa City. Students who want to participate in underage drinking seek out bars that they need fake IDs to get into because they feel unsafe at unregulated house parties.

"I was sick of going to house parties, where I was worried about getting roofied. At the bars I can watch the bartender make my drink," one UI freshman replied when asked why she decided to get a fake ID.

This concern is common among students.

"Even if there hasn't been a noticeable increase in the problem, there has always been danger related to excessive drinking at house parties, and students are right to feel concerned," Bender said. "There is increased potential for things to become unsafe whenever or where ever there is excessive drinking going on."

The propensity for dangerous drinking is obviously higher at a house party, where there is no bartender to cut people off or call the police.

If students are expressing their concern about the safety of house parties, the cause of these issues should be reviewed more in depth.

Bender believes that students have a responsibility to choose safety over breaking the law or drinking dangerously.

"Beyond enforcement and education, there is also a responsibility of part of students to be take steps to reduce their personal risk if they choose to attend a house party, and there is a responsibility on the part of party hosts to take steps to decrease the risk for problems by their guests," she said.

Although I agree that personal responsibility and accountability are important, it is unrealistic to expect that students would wield such responsibility well — in turn, putting more stress on law enforcement and the committee to review the causes of these concerns and explore ways to alleviate these concerns. May I suggest lifting the 21-ordinance for starters?

Sure, there are alcohol-free events across campus, especially in the dorms, but attendance at these events are usually low, indicating there is not great interest in alcohol-free events. It is unrealistic and naïve to think that by pushing students out of places where they can participate in underage drinking, that they will have a change of heart and decide that a dry event may actually be fun. They will simply find someplace else to go.

Though the goals of alcohol panel are admirable, they are far too general to work. New actions need to be taken to either change the culture of Iowa City or limit dangerous drinking as much as possible.


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