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Memo Released Regarding Alcohol Policy By USC

Cameron Beaulieu |
November 5, 2013 | 6:32 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

USC Seal / WikiCommons
USC Seal / WikiCommons

On Monday USC released a statement regarding recent concerns over excessive and underage alcohol consumption by students. The university released the memo following discussions at both an open “town hall meeting” with the USC community and a closed meeting with prominent leaders of the USC undergraduate population.

Continued alcohol-induced hospitalizations of students, a serious injury to a non-USC student and the death of a sophomore business major last week collectively contributed to the university's organization of these meetings.

According to the memo, upcoming solutions to the issue of student drinking will be categorized into three themes: “Updating educational strategies,” which will focus on the revision of programs like alcohol.edu, “Assessment and updating existing social event policies,” to review and redefine policies that can benefit student’s health and social experience, and “Alignment of environmental cues” to help foster a safer and less alcohol oriented culture on campus.

However, the relative ambiguity in which many of these concerns are presented has raised concerns among some members of the student body.

"Every time something bad happens on the row, [the administration] just shuts it down and then it's back the way it was a few weeks later after the moratorium; it doesn't really do a lot," said Joe Mallick, a junior at USC. 

The issue of USC’s historically reactive response to issues of alcohol abuse on campus raises the question of what motivates USC to engage in these talks of policy reform. Is the administration acting in crisis mode in order to appease concerned students and parents and preserve the university’s reputation or is there a sincere intention to begin transforming campus drinking culture?

University intentions are difficult to tease out—especially when it comes to short-term attention to issues like binge drinking. However, the statement released by the university does demonstrate a genuine effort to begin an ongoing conversation with students about current alcohol policies on campus in order to create mutually beneficial changes.

The administration is at a difficult impasse where they must be able to appease both the worries of those concerned with binge drinking and satisfy the interests of students who entered USC believing that a strong, vibrant, and admittedly alcohol-fueled social scene would be part of their college experience.

“I came to USC to get a good education, but I also came here to have fun," said one honors political science student. "I wanted the full college experience." Alcohol consumption and social events have become so ingrained in the public perception of the college experience that to suggest otherwise would be laughable to many. 

The same student went on to express concern over the possible change in USC’s culture. “I just feel that that’s what USC’s about—work hard play hard.”

USC is one of the rare institutions that routinely reaches not only the top of academic ranking for universities but also social rankings as well. Just this year USC placed number twenty-three in US News’s college rankings and number four in Playboy’s top party schools in the country. Such a high party school ranking rarely excites administrations, but this combination of strong social and academic life does undoubtedly bestow upon USC a unique flavor not present in many other universities.

How then will this university reconcile its problems of binge drinking while maintaining USC’s established social culture?

It’s been made obvious that blanket shutdowns of social centers at USC—like the row—are ineffective in curbing drinking problems. These shutdowns have only addressed the problem at the surface level, the place where many of this excessive drinking occurs, and not the more salient issue, the mentality of those who pursue this excessive drinking.

Many, if not most, colleges and universities around the country have faced similar problems of student drinking.

Dartmouth College, a much smaller university but one with a similar social reputation as USC, adopted the strategy of one-on-one alcohol education with students who have violated the university’s alcohol policy. The Dartmouth administration has found that students absorbed these one on one educational meetings, as evidenced by a decreasing rate of alcohol hospitalizations, far better than large group alcohol education seminars in auditoriums around campus.

Similarly, The University of Virginia, a public school of similar size to USC, has implemented policies that aim to educate rather than police. A fall festival for freshman that takes place at the university called HooFest hosts a program where older students educate freshman about the realities of drinking. Additionally, a program called “stall seat journals,” essentially posters placed in bathroom stalls, is used to help students to reach their peers about a variety of issues, including alcohol awareness. Neither of these programs necessarily aims to stop students drinking on campus, but rather educate them on the reality of drinking and hopefully encourage them to lead healthier lives. 

Fortunately, the university has considered many of these other options and is looking to other universities for guidance. In an interview Ainsley Carry, USC’s vice provost for student affairs, said that USC is looking to the policies of other universities with “common language, common ideas, and common theories,” in order to inform new policy formulation. Specifically, the administration wants to focus on universities with similar characteristics as USC—large, private, selective, in an urban area and with a strong Greek life. However, Dr. Carry reiterated that while USC is looking towards other universities to inform new policies, they want to make sure to mold all new policies to fit this campus and its students.

Education and student input, as the released statement reiterates, will be the administration’s most effective tool to keep students safe during their time at USC. The administration is not naïve to the depth of the problem they are attempting to fix, the statement acknowledges not only the complexity of the student drinking issue but also the prolonged time period that will be required in order to create any sort of meaningful and long term policy as well as implement it within the student body. So, while changes will not come immediately, they will hopefully benefit the USC community as a whole for years to come.

Reach Staff Reporter Cameron Beaulieu here 



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