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UNC fights risky drinking habits

Provost Jim Dean brought up the issue of binge drinking on UNC’s campus in a Faculty Executive Committee meeting on Oct. 20, saying he hoped to cut instances of binge drinking in half in the next two years.

“This level of binge drinking wasn’t created overnight, so we’re not going to be able to solve it overnight,” Dean said. “I don’t believe that binge drinking is any worse here than on any other campus, but I really do worry about our students. It can be very dangerous.”

Dean, along with Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, hopes to assemble a group to look at studies of what has been done to curb binge drinking on other campuses and to see whether the same ideas could be implemented at UNC.

Based on recommendations from the Faculty Council, Dean and Crisp will invite faculty from the psychology department and the schools of social work and public health to be a part of the group.

The goal for the group, Dean said, is to develop a list of recommended actions by the end of the semester. He said he’s hoping to put these recommendations in place during the fall 2015 semester.

Dean said at the October Faculty Executive Committee meeting that at least 30 percent of undergraduates self-reported that they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as the consumption of four to five drinks within two hours.

The Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement has been developing and strengthening alcohol policies over the past several years in order to encourage responsible drinking at fraternity and sorority parties.

While there have been a few high-profile instances of alcohol abuse that have been linked with fraternities — including the 2012 death of freshman David Shannon, a Chi Phi fraternity pledge who had a blood alcohol concentration of .22 when he fell 30 feet to his death — Interfraternity Council President Peter Diaz said that the tightening of policies was not reactionary.

These policies include a ban on common-source containers of alcohol, such as kegs, and mandatory guest lists for parties, among other provisions. Diaz also said the IFC is adding the “one sober brother” policy to its constitution soon.

“We’ve made it clear that these sort of ‘Animal House’ behaviors can’t fly, so we have to watch how we behave at fraternities,” Diaz said. “So, yes, binge drinking occurs at fraternities and it occurs at bars, but I don’t think it’s a Greek issue; I think it’s more of a college issue. We have the ability to set rules and regulations.”

Diaz said he thinks binge drinking can be mostly attributed to social perception.

“When people are at a party or a pregame with their friends and see their friends drinking, they feel the need to keep up, so I think that it’s very socially motivated,” Diaz said. “If you’ve been drinking like that for a year or two, you become accepting of it and it becomes a social norm, a mental expectation.”

Dean said he agreed that students binge drink because they see it as a social norm.

“I don’t think it’s something everyone in college does,” Dean said. “Some people don’t drink at all, some people don’t drink for religious or health reasons. In that case, it’s certainly avoidable ... It’s not about people drinking, it’s about binge drinking. There’s more people who don’t binge drink than people who don’t drink at all.”

Paddy Cavanaugh, a UNC senior, said he has studied at three different campuses and doesn’t feel UNC demonstrates a higher level of drinking than any other public university in the state.

“It seems that most students binge drink at some point during their life, but they also grow out of it,” Cavanaugh said. “So it’s a problem, but we’ve got bigger problems.”

Cavanaugh said he thinks the best way to curb binge drinking would be to educate the student body.

“Just like any other public health campaign, if they educated people, that’d be more effective than putting punishments in place,” Cavanaugh said.

Dean said his approach would include education on the issue.

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“In a nutshell, it is serious, and I hope that we can help students understand the risks they’re running from a health and educational standpoint,” Dean said.

Maryam Kazemzadeh-Atoufi, a sophomore, said she hasn’t experienced pressure to drink as a UNC student.

“My corner of the University culture has been chill about that,” Kazemzadeh-Atoufi said. “No one has ever thought less of me for not drinking.”

Caitlin Fogarty, a sophomore, said she doesn’t think that efforts by the administration would be effective in eliminating binge drinking.

“I think kids pretty much do whatever they want, unless it’s very easy to enforce not doing it,” Fogarty said.