The decision to forgo the policy change to allow students of age to drink off campus may be “old news,” but Messiah student government and administrators want to make sure alcohol education remains a part of a productive conversation on campus.
Doug Wood, Associate Dean of Students, is working with other administrators as part of the Alcohol Education Task Force to create more “proactive and needed” education in students’ interaction with alcohol. Wood said Messiah implemented reactive programs for when a student violates the current policy before this year, but now the focus is turned toward giving all students exposure to important information related to alcohol.
The task force is interested in encouraging students to help each other learn more about this topic, and is fostering partnerships with student organizations to get them involved with education programs. The first contributor to this partnership is Minds Matter, who will be holding an event called “Rethink that Drink” at 8:30 p.m. this Thursday in Fry 110.
“We’re hoping [with this event] to set a vision of what future programming on campus could look like, beyond spring semester and beyond some of these required programs,” Wood said. “Students listen best to other students, they can relate to each other’s stories in ways that are different than administrators talking at them.”
One stigma the task force is looking to eliminate is the fear of being punished by association for reporting a student who needs medical attention.
“We have a hunch that a lot of students would rather stay quiet about violating our alcohol policy at the risk of someone’s safety,” Wood said. “We really want to dispel the myth that people will get in trouble for reaching out to seek help.”
SGA President Jonathan Fuller also noted this concern, based on statistics SGA compiled as part of the survey which helped launch the policy proposal in the fall.
“Knowing [from our data] that a lot of students are still drinking despite the policy, with that number spiking when they turn 21, we can’t sit back and say we’re going to continue as we are,” Fuller said. “We really need to be proactive in our education.”
They hope to illuminate Messiah’s medical amnesty policy, which protects students from liability when they report someone who is in need of medical attention.
“This would bring to light a lot of these issues that seem to be hidden,” Fuller said. “A lot of conversations can’t be completely authentic and honest because alcohol is involved.”
On an academic level, Messiah is adding new, required programming to the general education wellness course. According to the new curriculum, students must attend three out five seminars, one of which is focused on alcohol. Another long-term plan includes Extended New Student Orientation, which would be an eight week, one-credit course required for all incoming students, and would feature a module on alcohol education.
“Through our research we’ve seen that the first six weeks of a student’s experience is the most formative and potentially the most destructive depending on the habits that develop during that time,” Fuller said.
Along with the Alcohol Education Task Force, SGA plans to advocate for the upcoming education programs. Fuller said he plans to encourage his successors to do the same. He believes the revisions to the alcohol policy will likely be proposed again in the future, and said SGA plans to “be at the forefront of showing people that this issue is important.”
“We are realizing that our community as a whole, particularly from a larger institutional standpoint, is not quite ready for this change,” Fuller continued. “But we still think it’s a place that there needs to be change eventually. The implementation of an alcohol education program is a step in the right direction.”