March 1, 1999
By Barbara McKenna
Alcohol and drug abuse are often considered the number one problem on America's college campuses. In response to this concern, an ad hoc committee of UCSC students, faculty, and staff have joined forces to present the conference, What's the Buzz? A Look at Alcohol and Drugs on campus.
The conference takes place on Thursday, March 4, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Porter College. The event is open to the UCSC community. The conference will provide an educational forum for discussion of a variety of topics, including the diverse experiences of students in relation to substance abuse and prevention strategies such as environmental management, educational intervention, and policy enforcement.
The keynote speaker for the conference is Michael Haines, coordinator for Health Enhancement Services at Northern Illinois University. Haines has been recognized for creating a highly successful program based on educating students on actual levels of substance use among their peers.
Haines's approach is based on the findings of H. Wesley Perkins, professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, which shows that college students consistently overestimate the extent of substance abuse among their peers and will change their drinking behavior to conform to more accurate information about the drinking behaviors of their peers. Haines's approach has been adopted at the University of Arizona, Tucson, which reduced drinking on campus by 7 percent in one year. Another two dozen or so colleges across the U.S. are now in early stages of implementing this approach.
Such an approach might be successful at UCSC, where, several studies indicate, substance use is lower than the national average. The 1997 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study determined that more than half (62.6 percent) of UCSC students report that they do not engage in binge drinking (identified as having five or more drinks in a sitting), and many do not drink at all. This places UCSC in the study's second quintile of schools for binge drinking, with the first quintile representing the lowest rates of use and the fifth quintile representing the highest rates of use.
In a 1993 campus-based study, less than half of UCSC students reported smoking marijuana in the previous year. Yet a recent informal survey of student perception conducted on campus by the Princeton Review reflected a common misconception by ranking UCSC number one in the category of "Reefer Madness." According to Haines, such misconceptions can actually perpetuate more extensive drug and alcohol use, while educating students about the actual use and lower social acceptability of alcohol and drug use may diminish use.
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