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Alcohol plan tweaked

BY MICHELLE NGO | FEBRUARY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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University of Iowa officials and students are striving to step down from the university’s position at the top of the Princeton Review’s party-school ranking.

While the group has had some success, the members want to better the initiatives currently in place.

Tanya Villhauer, an associate director of Student Health and Wellness, said advertising the plan is a critical component to encouraging students to participate in alcohol harm reduction initiatives.

“With social media now, marketing is a big help. There’s Facebook, there’s the After-Class website and we have E-news letters,” Villhauer said. “At a big campus like this, it’s always a challenge to make sure we’re getting it out so students see it in a lot of different venues.”

During 2010-13, the UI’s first Alcohol Harm Reduction Plan began to make strides in lowering the high-risk drinking culture.

To address this issue, the group plans to also develop a website to make it easier for students, faculty, parents, and community members to learn and understand what the university is doing as well as its role in reducing students’ risk for alcohol-related problems.

Despite university’s efforts towards alcohol harm reduction, the percentage of students engaging in high-risk drinking in the past two weeks was 58.7 percent, still exceeding the national average by 26 percentage points.

Some UI students believe the plan will inform students about safety initiatives the university offers.

“I don’t think it will reduce the number of students drinking, but it may reduce the number of negative effects from drinking, “ said UI senior Maria Flores. “If kids want to drink, they still will. But at least it will help students become aware that they can do something.”

While Flores doesn’t see the number of students engaging in high-risk drinking activities decreasing, another student thinks it could be effective.

“If you learn and understand how to control an alcohol-related environment, that helps you control your drinking habits,” said UI freshman Max Pavelec. “But it might be hard if students have to volunteer for these initiatives, because then no one’s going to want to do it.”

At the end of every year, board members from the Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee evaluate progress and develop a new plan. The new plan builds upon the previous plan by continuing the strategies the committee found effective while implementing more strategies to promote long-term sustainability.

“We are forming relationships with other Big Ten and Iowa colleges around these efforts and building a communication plan that promotes our efforts to a wider audience in order to create even more support,” Kelly Bender, the coordinator of Campus Community Harm Reduction Initiatives, wrote in an email.

According to the American College Health Association, the number of students engaging in high-risk drinking declined 17 percentage points last year, and the average number of drinks per sitting declined 20 percentage points since the implementation of the initial reduction plan.

The UI panel relies on the National Institutes on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism for research to guide its research.  The committee aims to attract students who don’t drink alcohol, help students remain low-risk drinkers, and hold high-risk drinkers accountable through the use of evidence-based alcohol strategies.

These initiatives include restricting access to alcohol by underage drinkers, providing alcohol-free activities, treatment and counseling, and educating faculty members.

Even with this “partying” reputation, the group members remain optimistic that the UI will move much closer to the national average come 2016.

“The key thing is that this is an ongoing effort on the part of the university to help promote the safety of its students,” said Tom Rocklin, the vice president for Student Life.


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