Program aims to educate freshmen on alcohol safety

As a part of the University College course, all freshmen are now required to participate in an alcohol education program.

University College 101, the class required for SIU freshmen to transition easier to college life, now requires freshmen to complete the AlcoholEdu for College program. While the program doesn’t condemn underage drinking, it provides tips for students to drink safely, said Jason Gillman, assistant director of the Wellness Center and the Core Institute.

“We wanted a product that took a neutral moral stance on alcohol,” Gillman said.

It’s federally required for college freshmen to take some type of alcohol program, he said. The program was chosen through a committee, Gillman said, and AlcoholEdu is the only online program that has been proven effective through the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The program also informs the students on what their peers’ perceptions of alcohol are from campus surveys, Gillman said.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a sitting, according to a survey published in April by the Core Institute, which is a department through SIU’s Student Health Center that focuses on gathering statistics concerning student life. The survey states 43.9 percent of students reported binge drinking in the two weeks prior to the completion of the surveys.

The survey showed students’ perceptions contrast largely with the actual amount of student drinking that occurs; 89.1 percent of students said they think the average SIU student drinks alcohol on a weekly basis, according to the survey.

Gillman said that perception is much higher than how much students actually drink, though.

“The perception of alcohol use is always higher than what it actually is,” he said.

The survey showed 11.9 percent of students thought alcohol use at SIU is greater compared to other campuses; 36.7 percent thought alcohol use was less compared to other campuses; and 51.4 percent thought alcohol use was about the same as other campuses.

“One of the things I noticed (and) really appreciated that this course acknowledged (is) that there is drinking going on campus and there are some students abusing alcohol, but both of those percentages are in the minority,” said Pat Manfredi, director of University Core Curriculum who teaches UCOL 101.

Manfredi also said many students assume everyone is a drinker, so it serves as an eye-opener for them when they receive new information from AlcoholEdu.

Kyle Ingraham, a freshman from St. Charles studying aviation, said the course made him second-guess what he thought of college students drinking alcohol.

“I learned some new things about alcohol that were a little scary, but I don’t know if it will change other people’s minds like the program would have liked to,” Ingraham said.

The alcohol effect, Gillman said, is when college-bound students drink more than their non-college-bound peers because they think it’s what is expected of them at a university.

“(The program is) very specifically tailored toward new college students because of that,” Gillman said.

One of the program’s major goals, Gillman said, is to change the university’s drinking culture.

“There still seems to be a perception that it still happens, but the first way to adjust that is to change the culture on campus … We are adjusting alcohol prevention and giving students an alternative to the drinking culture, and we’re helping to dispel those myths,” Gillman said.

Gillman said the topic Chancellor Rita Cheng spoke about in her State of the University Address Sept. 5 — SIU’s party school image — is also addressed by the course.

“Its goal is to emphasize that we are not the image that Rita Cheng was talking about in her address, and we do not have the same issues we had 20 years ago,” Gillman said.

What some students did not realize initially is that there is a sexual assault message embedded in the AlcoholEdu program, Gillman said.

“There are a lot of varied messages about what consent is, and you cannot give consent if you are drinking,” Gillman said.

Students ranged in their opinions on the program’s effectiveness.

Keisha Anderson, a freshman from Chicago studying criminal justice, said she thought it may affect other students’ drinking habits if they had certain experiences with alcohol.

“From my experience, I will not change my drinking habits based on the course, because I basically knew already what happens when you drink,” Anderson said.

Gillman said the program’s aim is to make students happier, safer and healthier, and drinking excessively goes against that mission.

 

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