Fixing a drinking problem

CAMPUS ISSUES: The campus community cannot let alcohol hospitalizations define our campus — we must find solutions and work together.

The eight hospital visits in one night prompted by extreme alcohol consumption during this year’s Welcome Week are a sobering reminder of the pervasive “binge-drinking” culture that affects college students nationwide.

Six of the eight cases reported by UCPD between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. last Monday originated from university residence halls, and all eight involved underage students being transported to the hospital for further medical care.

The number of instances, which UCPD Lt. Eric Tejada said he had “never seen in … one night,” marks yet another year in which the number of cases recorded has gone up. From 2010 to 2011, the number of reported alcohol-related illness calls doubled in the period between move-in day and Labor Day weekend, and in 2012, there were five calls during move-in weekend.

While it’s no surprise that Welcome Week is a particularly booze-soaked time for students on campus, that does not serve as sufficient justification for why so many students required medical attention to treat excessive drinking. It’s also evident that initiatives like AlcoholEdu, the campus program directed at educating new students on drinking safely at college, are ineffective at preparing freshmen to make safer and smarter drinking decisions. Finding new approaches to build a healthier drinking culture is paramount to fixing this problem.

One idea would be to develop a mandatory Welcome Week program in which older students relate personal experiences with alcohol abuse and teach new students about how to drink safely in college. And given that many of these alcohol-related horror stories are set at fraternity parties or student housing cooperatives, it’s essential to include them and ensure their participation in any new strategy developed.

Additionally, campus officials should do as much as possible to let new students know they won’t be penalized for reporting friends who have had too much to drink. While words of caution from a resident assistant or resident director may help in getting this through to freshmen, expanding a larger public awareness campaign could go a long way toward building a safer environment.

Welcome Week should be remembered for the usual beginning-of-the-year UC Berkeley traditions, like mobbing Caltopia with friends for freebies or attending the chancellor’s convocation to wait in line for free food. If we do not demand immediate action and a swift administration response, we may forever taint what should be such a special time with something even more serious than a few trips to the emergency room.