The number of students being rushed to the hospital for alcohol-related illnesses so far this year is not unusual, nor is it a new problem, administration officials say.
"Many times, the more you have is a reflection that you've had more education," said Steve Bisese, vice president for student development. "If you have more awareness and education and so forth -- for example, in sexual assault -- one of the indications is that you might have more being reported, so your numbers go up for good reasons."
Dan Fabian, chemical health coordinator and associate dean of Richmond College, said, "I think the assumption is that we're doing a better job educating [students], so they're getting help instead of taking the risk of somebody dying, which is a good thing."
Thirteen students have been sent to the hospital during the semester so far. Last year 24 were sent to the hospital, 27 were sent in 2006-07, 22 in 2005-06, 13 in 2004-05, 19 in 2003-04 and six in 2002-2003.
Fabian began recording the numbers in 2002. Students who refused treatment or were not transported to the hospital were not included in those numbers. Nor were students who were taken to the hospital by someone other than an ambulance. So far this year, ambulances were called to pick up three people, who later declined to be transported to a hospital.
Not every student who was taken to the hospital had alcohol poisoning.
Bisese said he could not clearly say why numbers had risen, but he said he felt students were more aware of the consequences of not reporting alcohol-related illnesses. He said he believed students understood they could be risking a life if they didn't act. He also said he had seen a rise in pre-game drinking -- a ritual that often causes students to drink more than they normally would.
Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College, said she also thought that more alcohol-related illnesses were being reported because students were more informed.
"I don't think it's any worse this year," she said.
In past years, most hospitalizations occurred before fall break, Landphair said, meaning this year's numbers might not be much higher than previous years'. Last year, five female students were hospitalized. Neither Fabian nor Richmond College keep track of hospitalizations by date.
Landphair spent more time with first-year students during orientation this fall emphasizing that they needed to practice alcohol safety as well as general safety during the first few weeks of the semester, she said.
Drinking on college campuses is not a new problem, Bisese said.
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"Alcohol use has been an issue for generations," he said. "It was when I was in school ... Why would it be that just this one year is different?"
Alcohol use among middle school, high school and college students has decreased during the past few years, said Kristen Lindgren, associate professor of psychology.
Recently, Lindgren was awarded a $885,739 five-year grant by The National Institute of Health's National Institute on Alcohol Awareness and Alcoholism. She will study how different thoughts and beliefs can be changed to alter drinking behaviors, she said.
A recent online Collegian poll asked people, "What leads to excessive drinking on campus?" Out of 200 voters, the No. 1 answer, with 27 percent of 200 votes, was "Lack of things to do." The second most chosen answer, with 26 percent, was "People don't drink enough." Other responses were "peer pressure," with 22 percent; "pre-gaming," with 16 percent and "stress," with 11 percent. The poll is not considered scientifically accurate because it reflects the views of those who chose to respond.
The university has made the URAware program a graduation requirement, which features a mandatory alcohol awareness course. Fabian and others are waiting for funding approval to create a new curriculum and book for the program, Fabian said, because the current program did not focus on drinking on college campuses. Bisese said he thought the university was unique because of the alcohol class.
"That's our policy: get folks safe and educate," Bisese said of the class, "and do whatever it takes to get the point across from a safety standpoint, from a decision making standpoint and, quite frankly, honesty about what poor decisions can do for life after Richmond."
As a part of the class, Fabian sent out a survey to students in 2006 and the results showed that 66 percent of students have zero to five drinks when they party. A party was described as a four-to five-hour event. Seventeen percent of students said they did not drink at all. Fabian will be doing the same survey in a few weeks, he said.
Contact staff writer Stephanie Rice at email@example.com
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