A revamped alcohol policy from the Alcohol Task Force aims to increase fines, provide more information to students and require student leaders to relinquish their positions if they receive an alcohol or drug violation.
The Alcohol Task Force was created at the request of President Maxwell in spring 2010, after a series of disturbing events at Drake University. The events included sexual assaults, hospitalizations and a student death due to a tragic incident that occurred under the influence of alcohol.
The committee includes students, staff, faculty, law enforcement and representatives from Employee and Family Resources in Des Moines. Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari is chair.
Task Force members were charged with the challenge “To achieve a cultural change in which alcohol consumption is no longer viewed as a necessary component for social interaction and success,” according to the Drake University Task Force report.
“Our goal is to see a reduction of all these things and not see a repeat of it,” Bakari said. He said he wants students to know drinking isn’t a prerequisite to having fun.
Operational dollars were allocated to the group, and other funding came from Student Senate, the Residence Hall Association and other student organizations.
Campus Care Team Alcohol Task Force’s purpose is to decrease alcohol-related incidents, such as hospital visits, public intoxication, fights and property damage.
“Our mission promises that we prepare Drake students for meaningful personal lives; part of that preparation has to be how to have fun without hurting yourself or somebody else,” said Provost Michael Renner in an email interview.
One of the provisions in the plan is the Student Leadership Role-Model Clause. This requires student leaders to relinquish their positions if they receive an alcohol or drug violation.
Leigh Thiedeman, director of fraternity and sorority life, said she thinks this clause will affect Greek communities more than the other changes.
“I always tell my students in the Greek community, ‘I want you to have an awesome time in college, and I want you to take advantage of it. But I want you to have the resources to do it safely,’” Thiedeman said.
In fall 2009, a first-year student was hospitalized with a blood alcohol content of nearly .500 following a hazing incident related to a Drake fraternity.
“Those are the ones I really worry about and think they need to drink to have fun,” Bakari said. “They drink too much and put themselves in the danger zone. Sometimes it takes that frightening experience to alert them.”
Another change gave all first-year students a subscription to Student Health 101, an online magazine that features information about alcohol, nutrition, fitness, sexual health, smoking and more. The magazine creates the articles, but it also allows Drake students to contribute content.
“The intent was to provide first-year students with a lot of information about wellness,” Bakari said. He said he anticipates the magazine will be available to all students next fall.
The Task Force also had first-years take an online course called AlcoholEdu, which included tutorials and quizzes designed to educate students about the dangers of drinking.
First-year Taryn Triveline said she thought the programming was a waste of time. She kept the videos open and running, then came back later. She said she doesn’t think the course will change anyone’s mind about drinking.
“I think it’s normal for any college experience,” Triveline said. “I don’t think any test or videos are going to change it. It’s just a part of college, and trying to pretend it isn’t is kind of naive.”
Among other changes, fines will be doubled if students are caught drinking underage.
“When examining peer institutions, we found that Drake’s fines were substantially lower, and an increase in fines would also increase funding for alcohol-alternative and alcohol education events,” said Lorissa Lieurance, director of residence life.
Recommendations for Drake included partnering with and increasing involvement with the Des Moines community, special programming for first-year students, changes in the alcohol and student conduct policies, adjustments in the campus environment, alcohol-free events, academic integration, promotion of these modifications, assessing the impact and reaching out to resources such as Student Health 101.
“If we just did half of this stuff, I think it could be quite an impact,” Bakari said.
In planning the changes, the committee met with students, used existing research and practices pertaining to student drinking and surveyed Drake students using an online American Collegiate Health Assessment.
The committee will continue next year. Thiedeman says the changes will be made over the next two or three years. She said she wants the students’ input on what they missed or didn’t address in the report.
“We need to have good partnerships where students take ownership,” Bakari said. “We need students to step up, bring their A game and say, ‘We’re going to be accountable and responsible, to the point where we’re not going to drink and put our health at risk and academic career at risk and academic experience at risk.’”
It’s up to the students to change the drinking culture, Bakari said. While he and the Task Force remain optimistic, it’s clear that there’s still a lot to be done.
“I think people are going to do what they want to do,” first-year Triveline said. “If the law’s not going to stop them, why would the dean telling you what to do make a difference?”