Becky Munson has no desire to drink.She has friends who do it, and she knows fully where to get it, but it doesn’t interest her in the least.
“I don’t think I need to have alcohol to have fun,” said Munson, a freshman ballet and kinesiology major. “And I have too much stuff to do to get wasted. The aftereffects are not somthing I’m crazy about.”
Her lack of interest in drinking was echoed by two other freshmen who were seated with her at The Main.
“It never really appealed to me that much,” said political science major Eddie Rivoldi. He said that, though he did drink some during high school, he “grew out of it.”
Alex Witschey, a philosophy major who was also seated at the table, agreed. He said he viewed underage drinking as a phase most people just “cycle through.”
Angela Taylor, director of TCU’s Alcohol and Drug Education Center, said this cycle is something her office deals with every day.
This year, the center surveyed 705 TCU students about their drinking habits. This was part of a national project, called the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, designed to measure alcohol use, and other things, among U.S. college students.
One part of the study measures “high-risk” drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks in one session. After five drinks, Taylor said, a person begins to feel the negative effects of alcohol, including impaired judgement, dizziness or nausea. And depending on physical size and rate of drinking, five drinks could put a person beyond Texas’ legal limit of 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, making it illegal to drive.
On a national level, 45.3 percent of college freshmen told survey-takers in 2004 that they participate in high-risk drinking. But older students reported higher numbers. Sophomores, for example, fell into the high-risk category 49.1 percent of the time and juniors 51.6 percent.
At TCU, percentages are lower.
In this year’s study, 38.5 percent of freshman participants said they take part in high-risk drinking and 23 percent of them said they frequently drink heavily, but the numbers dropped to 33.2 percent and 15.1 percent respectively for sophomores.
But it is that first year Taylor said she is concerned about. She said her department’s goal is to educate and encourage underage drinkers to see consequences from their actions and to think critically in order to facilitate a change.
“Part of what we do is play for time,” she said.
She said the idea is to “keep students alive, not injuring themselves too badly through that freshman year,” a strategy she refers to as “harm reduction.”
“Yes, we do want to prevent want to prevent underage drinking,” said Taylor, who is also the associate dean of student affairs. “But at the same time, we know some students are going to choose to drink.”
“So in that situation, how can we reduce the harm that they experience, but at the same time allowing them to experience consequences, because people don’t change behavior unless they experience consequences,” she added.
Taylor said that experiencing the consequences of drinking too much does cause students to change their behaviors.
“John,” a freshman premajor who asked his real name be withheld, said his motivation for drinking is simple: He has more fun. He said heavy drinking is prevalent at his fraternity’s parties, where older members bring alcohol for everyone, with no regard to age.
“I don’t know of anyone that’s an associate that doesn’t drink in our fraternity,” he said.
John said he will drink about 15 beers at a typical party, three times what TCU calls high-risk.
One of John’s friends, “Chad,” a sophomore business major, said that, while he drinks less at parties than his friends do, roughly 10 in a night, it’s only because he’s a “lightweight.”
Both Chad and John said they had no moral or ethical problems with underage drinking.
They agreed that responsibility, such as not drinking and driving, is the key. They also said the only things that could make them stop drinking would be receiving DUIs or severely injuring or killing someone.
But Taylor said her department tries to show underage drinkers that their actions can have more than legal ramifications.
TCU’s alcohol policy, as outlined in the Student Handbook, prohibits underage drinking, use of alcohol in areas that are not residence hall rooms, and on-campus intoxication. It also says students who are underage may not be in rooms where alcohol is present.
The only exception is if the student has a roommate who is older than 21 and has alcohol in the room.
The policy also describes the consequences of violation. After the first offense in an academic year, a student will receive a fine of $150 or community service of 30 hours as well as “an alcohol assessment, and a required educational workshop.”
After two violations, the stakes go up to a higher fine, more community service, more alcohol education and a letter to the student’s parents.
Taylor said parents, even those who are aware of their children’s drinking, are usually appreciative when they hear about the violations.
Chad said his parents know about his drinking habits, and, though they once had a problem with it, he said they are now comfortable with the idea.
“They think I’m more mature now, which I think I am, too,” he said. “And they understand that I’ll do it responsibly.
“I’ve never had an incident where in high school I came home drunk off my ass, throwing up, doing all this other stuff,” he added. “Yeah, I get drunk, but they think I’m mature enough and old enough that I can drink responsibly.”
Taylor said that a letter home from her department lets parents know their children are no longer being responsible with alcohol, as they might have previously thought.
Another part of the violation process is for students to meet with counselors and discuss their drinking habits.
Taylor said this step is designed to force students to think about drinking from a different perspective and to help them understand how alcohol can affect the rest of their daily lives.
In addition to the violation system, Taylor’s department sponsors on-campus events to educate students about the effects of alcohol and drugs.
Brittany Hafner, a senior middle education major, is the vice president of peer education for Hyperfrogs, an organization that started 12 years ago as a joint venture between the Alcohol and Drug Eduction Center and the athletics department to promote safe, alcohol-free activities for students.
Hyperfrogs’ goal is to “present the facts so if students do choose to drink, they can do it safely, and they can make it home every night,” Hafner said. The organization sponsors events such as National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week and tailgate parties, such as the one held before the TCU-Utah game Sept. 15.
Hafner said the group’s largest event, Burgers on the Beach, draws about 500 people yearly and is used as an advertisement for the annual Alcohol-Free Weekend in April.
And she said the group’s efforts are working, in the long run.
“The immediate response can be disheartening,” she said. “But when you go to a party, and you see people making smart choices, you hope that you had something to do with it.”
Hyperfrogs and the Alcohol and Drug Education Center are not the only groups promoting safe drinking habits. Many of TCU’s fraternities and sororities have “safe ride” programs for their members, providing sober drivers who will pick them up from anywhere in the city.
Taylor said she is interested in implementing such a program for all students, but logistics would be difficult, and people would need to be willing to give up their weekends to drive.