From the Desk of the Dean of Students
March 4, 2010
St. Olaf is in the midst of a very candid and open discussion on the topic of alcohol and its impact on community life. A number of factors have spurred the discussion, including general concern by students for their own and their friends' well-being and awareness that — so far this academic year — we have seen 24 hospitalizations for alcohol toxicity.
As a community, we are reevaluating how we deal with this issue, and in doing so, we have challenged student leaders to examine how they might more directly address high-risk behavior among their peers. In addition, students are currently working with college leadership, including the Board of Regents, to understand the challenges that they face concerning alcohol both here and in the larger world. All of us agree though, that to be effective, we need to include parents in the discussion.
On the ground level, the college engages parents when we see alcohol affect a student's safety and/or academics. This can mean members of my staff calling parents from the emergency room (usually in the early morning hours), or even calling a family meeting to address concerns following an incident. These are not always pleasant experiences, but they can result in life-changing decisions.
Our experience shows that parents who discuss these matters with their children have a strong preventative influence on high-risk behaviors. Recent research says:
- Parents who discuss alcohol with their children generally have stronger relationships with their college-age children on all subjects than those who did not talk about it.
- Students with parents who articulate clear expectations of behavior concerning alcohol and drugs had lower incidents of binge drinking and related problems.
- Students who come from homes where they were allowed to use alcohol in high school were more likely to have substance abuse issues in college and be involved in disciplinary and legal action.
One can debate the research and anecdotal evidence, but one conclusion is clear to me: parents matter.
I often hear parents say it is inevitable that students not only will drink, but will drink to excess; even pass out or be hospitalized. Parents may even be aware of the "rite of passage" that challenges students to have 21 shots of alcohol on their 21st birthday. On average, doing this over a 4.5-hour period will result in a 180-pound man having a blood alcohol content level of .40 (five times the .08 BAC that establishes someone as "legally drunk"), and a BAC of .66 for a 130-pound woman. This endeavor could easily result in death. To paraphrase a local police officer, “How can an activity that could kill you be called a 'rite of passage'?".
One of our counselors who often works with students who have abused alcohol, reminds us that colleges usually have these brutally candid conversations after a student dies from alcohol poisoning. Like you, we have no interest in experiencing this. The time for these discussions is now.
For more information on Alcohol Use and Abuse Among College Students please visit our Parents Web page.
Vice President and Dean of Students
St. Olaf College