Colleges May Need to Do More Than 'Just Say No'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Banning alcohol on college campuses and adopting tough rules to stem binge drinking may be good ideas - but is "just say no" enough?

Not according to Ellen Gold, a health-care educator at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, who says "just having a policy, just enforcing laws, just giving students facts about alcohol fails to address the real issue." At base, student protests over "drinking rights" are fueled by a conviction that they cannot be happy without a drink, she says.

"If it is the students' perception that they need alcohol to be social, then we need to ask how we can show them they really don't need it," she says.

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Last month, Ohio University students rioted in Athens, Ohio, when the switch to daylight-savings time caused bars there to shut an hour early.

Dean of Students Joel Rudy says the incident was an embarrassing disappointment. Tough new rules on campus, including the closing of the only pub, have not squelched student drinking. Instead, students have gone off campus.

"What students really want most is a chance to just hang out with their peers," he says. "Alcohol is closely associated with this. But it does not have to be."

Dr. Rudy says that today's students - more than other generations - need to be shown how to socialize. That's not a role most universities readily embrace, he says. Yet since students now come from smaller families or were latch-key children, colleges must address basic socialization, he says. "Kids have computers, cable TV, micro-fridges and microwave ovens all in their rooms," he says. "They don't have to come out." When they do get out they sometimes drink to soothe anxiety and "go nuts."

Ohio University is boosting manpower and funding for alternative activities 24 hours a day. Recreation is a mainstay, he says, ticking off exercise programs that begin at 8 p.m. and run through the night, a new climbing wall, and expanded intramural programs.

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