Safe drinking, safe Berkeley

At the core of every “party safe” measure, every responsible drinking workshop and every AlcoholEdu-style Internet education tool, there lies a fundamental rationalization — college students are going to drink. UC Berkeley has developed a lot of policies and has encouraged behaviors to minimize the impact of this drinking culture, but what if those aren’t enough? What do we do, as students, when our college fun ends up negatively impacting the other members of our community?

As a recent ABC News investigative report pointed out, UC Berkeley’s increasing number of late-night emergency room visits and ambulance calls is spreading our emergency services thin. In addition to this being a self-evident health hazard, it means that emergency service units are called in from outside of Berkeley to deal with our drinking problem.

Because that’s what it is: We have a drinking problem.

The ABC News report, aired last week, is deeply flawed. Its footage wrongly singles out specific fraternities and does not include any official response from the Greek system. Still, the report is damning evidence that UC Berkeley students’ fun comes with both serious health risks and consequences for the entire Berkeley community.

While part of the reason we need increased paramedic resources might be that we’ve been successfully encouraging students to feel more comfortable calling for help when friends drink too much, that’s not the whole picture. This year, eight cases of alcohol-related illness were reported in the residence halls during one night of Welcome Week, and the growing trend of incidents pertaining to alcohol-related illness is one that indicates the problem has gotten worse.

Another troubling measure of how bad it has become is the possible delay in emergency services response time that could arise due to handling all of students’ paramedic calls. Not only are we forced to rely on emergency help from other cities, but the strain students are putting on the system is putting other members of our community at risk.

It’s time UC Berkeley students take ownership of this issue. Unfortunately, when it comes to action, our options our tough.

Trying to scare students straight with statistics and name-shaming members the of Greek system aren’t going to cut it — it’s incumbent upon students and Greek organizations to take action. A first step could be a week- or weekend-long moratorium on all social events to underscore the severity of the problem. Increasing the frequency of workshops on safe alcohol consumption might be successful, as might mandating increased student participation in putting them on. These efforts seem small, but the point of all this is to gradually effect a major culture shift, something that takes time.

For now, we’re left with problems that are in large part of our own making. What comes next is what we choose to do about it.