Last weekend, the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council among other organizations held a New Member retreat, which essentially functioned as one of those high-school assemblies about alcohol awareness.
Couple this with AlcoholEdu for College, a two- to three-hour online alcohol education course required for incoming students at USC and other institutions, and it’s clear the university’s policy toward alcohol education is to preach sobriety, rather than responsibility. These programs’ attempted central message is not “Don’t drink, it’s bad” but “Please make responsible decisions about alcohol,” an agreeable position. The problem with the programs, however, is that they do not really seem to take this approach at all.
Isn’t encouraging sobriety, implicitly or explicitly, the ultimate goal of such supplemental education? Well, no — in fact it isn’t. The goal, just as the intended mission of educational company Outside the Classroom and the university, is to keep students informed so they can make their own responsible decisions about alcohol or to simply eradicate ignorance about a substance so prevalent on college campuses. To state neutrality, but then bombard us with videos and stories in which every encounter with alcohol ends catastrophically makes AlcoholEdu and programs such as the new member retreat seem both unrealistic and hypocritical.
It is easy then, to see why youth, who count hypocrisy among the many things they love to hate, are completely turned off by these programs.
Alcohol education is an invaluable resource for incoming college students, particularly for those who have not really been exposed to it before. Some situations presented in AlcoholEdu and other programs, however, did not serve that purpose because of the unrealistic depiction of alcohol consumption.
Situations are presented as if there is no middle ground between buzzed and trashed, that if a person is slurring words or having trouble keeping balance, they are automatically “dangerously drunk,” that drinking almost always ends in a huge fight with your best friend, roommate or significant other. The assumption is that there is always a right and a wrong answer for situations that are in fact too complicated to judge entirely objectively.
With several years of survey data behind Outside the Classroom that points to AlcoholEdu’s success, the group can be confident the program is bringing about a significant positive change on college campuses. The university has obviously seen this “success” and has tried to emulate the same message by pushing it toward the Greek system, specifically new members after the events of “Black Monday” last year.
Even if these programs discourage alcohol use, however, they are not accomplishing their stated mission of giving students the tools they need to make informed and responsible decisions about alcohol. Alcohol education needs to become simple and direct about information students really need to know. Maybe then we will see a real decrease in dangerous drinking practices and a real change in student attitude about drinking — changes infinitely more important than a percentage point or two.
Francesca Bessey is an undeclared freshman.