Students tackle binge drinking issue on campus

Pictured: roughly one serving of alcohol.

A group of classmates at the University of Saskatchewan has undertaken a long-term study that will examine the environmental pressures to binge drink on campus and at campus-related events.

The U of S Student Binge Drinking Prevention campaign originally started as a sociology assignment, but has since evolved into a funded initiative run by four students.

Since September the group has been collecting data from students on their attitudes toward alcohol consumption in the hope of being able to educate future freshmen of the risks involved.

“Overall, the response has been pretty positive,” said project co-founder Dani Robertson-Boersma of the response from students who have participated in the survey the group created. “We’ve been approaching students in addition to going to classrooms and devoting the first 15 minutes to the survey.”

A couple of the questions that participants are asked to answer on the survey are, “How often do you drink?” and, “What do you consider binge drinking to be?”

Thus far, the data collected has confirmed that in one way or another, most students have been affected by binge drinking. This is generally not a surprise, as most campuses across Canada endorse events where the fulcrum is alcohol. Robertson-Boersma believes that college-sponsored festivities such as LB5Q, football games and fundraisers, as well as advertisements around campus, have created an atmosphere conducive to overconsumption of alcohol.

Although the definition may vary from person to person, four to five drinks consumed in an evening is generally considered “binge drinking.” While for some students this may seem like a reasonable pace for a typical Saturday night, the long-term effects on grades and health are substantial. According to Robertson-Boersma, new students get the wrong idea when it comes to sustaining an adequate GPA while balancing a social life.

“The first thing you see at Welcome Week is the beer tent in the bowl. [Events like this] create this misleading social norm — this perception that students can go out and get wasted more than once a month, and still do well in their classes.

“Students need to know that in order to do well in university, you can’t go out and party like that every weekend.”

Although the project’s purpose is to shed light on the drawbacks of drinking, the students involved have expressed their intention not to condemn responsible consumption. Instead, they hope to educate students and prevent serious incidents from happening.

Such incidents, which have happened across the country and in the United States, include students dying from drinking too much. After a student’s death at Acadia University earlier this year, administrators there put strict limits on drinking on-campus.

“We’re focusing on moderation, not abstinence. We are trying to get students to open up to this idea that alcohol can be consumed more safely,” said Kaitlyn Selanders, one of the project’s co-ordinators.

The study is still in the initial research and data-gathering stage. Although it is difficult to predict what sort of impact the results will have on the student body, Selanders is confident that the study will help in shifting students’ attitudes away from the binge drinking culture that has emerged on Canadian campuses. In the future, she hopes the project will use multiple forms of social media to reach students, as well as plan events for them — events that won’t solely centre on excessive guzzling. And depending how the U of S handles the presence of alcohol on campus, it could become an example to others.

“Binge drinking is a concern at every campus. It can be dangerous when you consider the risks involved,” said Selanders.

Risks such as injury to oneself, injury to others and unprotected or non-consensual sex can be devastating both physically and emotionally. Nonetheless, upwards of 67 per cent of post-secondary students on the prairies consume alcohol on a regular basis according to a 2008 National College Health Assessment survey that studied U of S students.

While the campaign hasn’t analyzed enough surveys to draw any conclusions yet (the research portion of the initiative won’t be done until next term), the study has found that in the overall student body, first-year students and athletes are primary targets at events for overconsumption.


Photo: OpalMirror/Flickr