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August 31, 1995

Alcohol task force outlines recommendations

Beginning in 1996, Pitt dorm students will be able to acquire a "dry" roof over their heads just by asking for one.

Alcohol-free rooms, floors and suites will be available in each University residence hall to students who pledge to keep their rooms free of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

In the meantime, Pitt has banned alcohol from Amos Hall, beginning this week. The 10-story dorm houses nine sororities whose national organizations already forbid alcohol, although Pitt has not enforced those rules.

Those are two of the changes resulting from the work of Pitt's Alcohol Abuse Task Force, which this month released its final report and recommendations. Leon Haley, vice chancellor for Student and Public Affairs, formed the 18-member group in November in response to evidence of increasing alcohol abuse at Pitt and other universities.

Two months before Haley formed the task force, a woman told police she was sexually assaulted at an off-campus fraternity party where alcohol was served. The woman has sued the University. Soon after the task force began its work, Pitt pre-med student Atif Bhatti drank himself to death while celebrating his 21st birthday off campus.

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said he plans to meet soon with Haley to set a timetable for implementing task force recommendations. Nordenberg called the task force's report "thoughtful" and "a very positive step" but noted that Pitt's senior administration has not yet committed itself to all of the group's recommendations — for example, annually allocating $70,750 to Pitt's Counseling Center and $23,657 to the Student Health Service for activities aimed at fighting alcohol abuse among students. Of that money, $47,250 would go toward the salary and fringe benefits of a substance abuse specialist at the Counseling Center.

Among the recommendations that the administration has approved so far are the alcohol-free dorm room policy, set to go into effect next year, and the ban on alcohol in Amos Hall. Some sorority members have protested the latter move, said Robert Gallagher, task force chairperson and assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs. "They're saying their national organizations forbid alcohol use in common rooms but not in private bedrooms. But we've checked the bylaws of these sororities and they ban alcohol throughout the building. So we [Pitt administrators] plan to stand firm on this," Gallagher said.

The University also will require all of its student-athletes to take a one-credit course on substance abuse, starting this fall, Gallagher said. Also beginning this fall, Freshman Studies I, a course taken by two-thirds of Pitt freshmen, will feature a lecture on alcohol-related problems — not just alcohol abuse as it relates to sexual assault, as has been the case in the past with the course, Gallagher noted.

All campus alcohol policies will be consolidated and published as an addition to the Student Code of Conduct and reviewed annually, as recommended by the task force, said Gallagher.

The task force also recommends that: * Campus police receive training on substance abuse to ensure "proper, informed and consistent application of police procedures regarding intoxicated students." * Student ID cards list the owner's date of birth.

* Pitt consider establishing a hotline for students to call when their friends have been abusing alcohol or other drugs.

* The Interfraternity Council and individual fraternities and sororities develop additional alcohol abuse programs. "Studies have consistently demonstrated that Greeks drink more often and in greater amounts than other college students and have more alcohol-related problems," the task force noted.

* The University "attend more to the social needs of those students who do not drink or who drink moderately. Rewarding this lifestyle may well influence those who view excessive alcohol usage as the only social alternative." The task force recommended creating "a storefront pub-like facility that would provide an opportunity for alcohol-free programming in an attractive and accessible setting." The task force cited studies linking alcohol abuse to rape and other violent acts, vandalism, suicide, low grades and drop-outs.

The group referred to a nationwide survey by Towson State University that attributed 60-90 percent of police involvement on campuses to alcohol-related incidents.

The task force also cited a Harvard study of 17,592 students on 140 U.S. campuses (including Pitt), which found that anywhere from 1 percent (at Harvard) to 70 percent of the students surveyed admitted to being binge drinkers. The researchers defined binge drinking for men as having at least five drinks in one sitting within the previous two weeks; for women, it was four drinks in one sitting. At Pitt, the study identified 54 percent of the students surveyed as binge drinkers. "Not one student in the Pitt sample believed that he or she had a drinking problem," the task force noted.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 1

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