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November 23, 1994

Alcohol abuse task force begins review of policies

At its first meeting Nov. 21, Pitt's alcohol abuse task force formed subcommittees to begin reviewing University drinking policies and alcohol education programs.

"It's too early to say what the task force will end up recommending, but we will probably propose a major educational effort and tightening our current policies on alcohol consumption somewhat," said task force chairperson Robert P. Gallagher, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs.

The 16-member task force, made up of staff, faculty and students, will seek input from various student groups about how to address alcohol abuse problems at Pitt.

The task force also will look into working with other colleges and universities and with bar owners to curtail underage drinking and binge-drinking by upperclassmen, Gallagher said.

And the task force may recommend creating "substance-free" rooms or floors at Pitt dormitories where alcohol and tobacco would be banned, said Gallagher. Such areas have become popular at other schools among students who appreciate not having to worry about roommates stumbling in drunk in the middle of the night, according to Gallagher.

While the task force hasn't ruled out any options yet, Gallagher said it's unlikely that the group will recommend that Pitt impose a completely dry campus. Studies have shown that the percentage of undergraduates at dry campuses who drink to get drunk remains at the national average (43 percent), but incidents of drunk driving and alcohol-related deaths, vandalism and sexual abuse increase at such campuses, Gallagher said. "The concern is that when you drive the students who are going to drink anyway off campus, they're not being supervised at all. They're more out of control," he said.

Mandatory student education programs about the dangers of alcohol abuse may not be necessary because about 85 percent of Pitt freshmen are exposed to alcohol education through the University's Freshman Seminar, and the Student Health Service and other Pitt offices provide similar programs, said Gallagher. But the task force probably will recommend giving greater emphasis to existing alcohol education initiatives and may propose new ones, he said.

"One of our goals will be to try to change the view some students have that every other student on campus is a binge drinker. In fact, the majority of students are not, but the tendency for some students is to drink to excess in an effort to live up to the norm," Gallagher said.

"Probably, the more successful students don't drink to excess. There's a clear relationship between grade point averages and drinking. We estimate that 15 percent of the students who withdraw from the University do so because they're abusing alcohol." Gallagher said that Leon Haley, vice chancellor for Student and Public Affairs, asked him to put together the task force at least a week before the Nov. 11 death of Pitt pre-med student Atif Bhatti, who died after reportedly drinking 16 shots of whiskey in less than an hour while celebrating his 21st birthday. "We did get moving quicker on the task force as a result" of Bhatti's death, Gallagher said.

The task force hopes to give Haley its recommendations in February or March, with the goal of instituting changes in Pitt's alcohol policies at the beginning of the fall 1995 term.

Task force members include Gallagher; Ruth Becker, Lutheran campus pastor; Rick Boyd, Office of Public Safety; James Cox, University Counseling Center; Julie Crowell, Student Government Board; Dennis Daley, Center for Psychiatry and Chemical Dependency Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic; Kerry Daley, Office of Student Activities; Nancy Day, associate professor of psychiatry; Shirley Haberman, Student Health Services; Susan Harkins, Office of Special Student Programs, College of Arts and Sciences; David Hornyak, Office of Residence Life; Kenye Johnson, Resident Student Association; Peter Morgan, Student Affairs (task force coordinator); Grady Roberts, Jr., School of Social Work; Doug Siegal, Interfraternity Council; and Dick Wood, Office of Special Student Programs, College of Arts and Sciences.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 7

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