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November 13, 2012

Alcohol ER trips double

Seventeen students have been transported to the ER this year as a result of alcohol consumption, more than double the number of students who had been transported by this time last year. Of those 17, 10 were first-years.

Associate Dean of Students Marianne West does not believe the increase represents a significant shift.

“First of all, our numbers are so low that I think a 100 percent increase in numbers sounds alarming when you put it in a percentage situation,” she said. “With another hundred students in the class this year, I don’t know whether those numbers are really alarming in the way that if we were an Ivy school.”

West added that the University’s peer institutions, even those with an undergraduate population similarly sized to the U of C, often report numbers as high as 30 or 40 in a given weekend. In 2011,183 alcohol-related medical calls were made at Harvard to campus police, according to an article in The Crimson, a number consistent with recent years.

“I really don’t think it’s a culture shift for the University,” West said. According to her, the University has maintained its reputation as a place of serious learning, saying that even with the Common App, the type of student who attends U of C is still self-selective.

“Students who get to any college and end up with a significant problem of overdrinking cannot manage at a quarter system school. They can’t. If you’ve lost three or four weekends to being very drunk and think you’re going to manage the U of C curriculum demands in the interim days, that’s just not going to happen,” she said.

According to a student transported to the ER the Saturday of O-Week, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, West did seem to express some concern for the high total of five students transported to the ER at the close of O-Week during a meeting with the student. West became worried, the student said, given that only slightly more students were transported to the ER in the entirety of autumn quarter last year.

West wasn’t the only one who expressed concern. The four students transported that Saturday were all residents of Max Palevsky Residential Commons, which, as a result of the high concentration of students transported, has been making extra efforts to discuss alcohol safety during house meetings throughout the quarter.

The first-year student who spoke with West said her trip to the ER was the result of her lack of knowledge about how quickly hard liquor would affect her. The student said she’d been drinking since the age of 15, but only had experience with mixed drinks at a slow pace, and was unprepared for the amount and speed of drinking that night.

“There’s the phenomenon of doing shots, which students who have had a few beers in high school and are confronted with a few shots, I’m sorry to say, you know ten shots in an hour is not a very wise idea,” West said.

Lindsey Greeson, health educator with Health Promotion and Wellness, sees the increased number of transports as a potential indicator of safe drinking habits, a goal that the program sought to underline during O-Week.

“One thing I’ll say [is] that it’s hard with alcohol poisoning numbers to know if that really is capturing what our drinking behaviors are on campus because in some ways it could be a good thing that there’s been more alcohol transports because that means people are intervening, that they’re helping their friends and that they’re calling and they’re not just leaving someone to sleep it off,” she said.

According to both Greeson and Kelly Stewart, the director of Health Promotion and Wellness, the amount of available information on alcohol safety has increased tremendously on campus, including an explicit description to both RAs and RHs as to what alcohol poisoning looks like symptomatically.

Peer Health Educators, a subsidiary group under the Health and Wellness department, which is comprised of 11 University students, aims to emphasize the importance of communication and accurate information when dealing with situations that could result in overconsumption of alcohol by giving presentations to dorm houses.

“In terms of how many students are going to the ER, I think a lot of it is communication. I think people can better disclose to their friends what they want out of the evening,” said Amishi Bajaj, a third-year and member of Peer Health Educators.

According to Stewart, the instruction seems to be working.

One first-year student who was transported to the ER during O-Week claimed that her RA was very insistent she visit the ER because her symptoms, mainly vomiting, were indicative of alcohol poisoning. Although she claims she could walk and talk quite well, she was transported for care.

“We treat these incidents as a health and safety concern,” West said. “Not as a ‘you did a bad thing.’ We don’t use a judicial approach, which is what most other Ivies have to use because their numbers are so high. If our numbers ended up at 50 a weekend, sheer numbers would probably dictate that we’d have to [take punitive measures]. We’re lucky that we’re able to take this approach with students.”

—Additional reporting by Janey Lee

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