Live Responsibly

SMU Belongs to a team fighting binge drinking

SMU has teamed up with peer institutions — including Dartmouth, Stanford, Duke, Brown, Princeton, Purdue and Vanderbilt — to research new and innovative ways to fight binge drinking on campus.

The University has joined more than 30 other colleges and universities in the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking, an inaugural effort of the National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP) based at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. The group will use comprehensive evaluation and measurement techniques "to identify and implement the most effective ways to address the problems of high-risk drinking," according to an NCHIP press release. The teams will use outcomes-based research to discover what programs work best, where they work and why. The 18-monthproject has an 18-month follow-up.

Joining NCHIP is an outcome of SMU’s 2007-08 President’s Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention.  After producing its initial report, the Task Force evolved into the President’s Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention. The Commission is composed of administrators, faculty members, students, the University chaplain and a parent representative. The group continues to focus on the six categories of the original recommendations and to continue the discussion of substance abuse prevention, ideas, strategies and areas for further review.

“I see our membership in the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking as an important part of the work of the President’s Commission,” says Lori White, vice president for Student Affairs at SMU. “I look forward to joining forces with our peers to find ideas and answers about binge drinking.”

SMU is the only Texas university among the current partner institutions, which also include Bucknell, Boston University, Cornell, DePauw, Northwestern, Lehigh, Sewanee, Wellesley, Yale, Washington University in St. Louis and the Universities of Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming.

More than 40 percent of college students in the United States engage in binge drinking, a number that has remained virtually unchanged for decades, says Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men over a period of about two hours, or any drinking that leads to impairment.

"By collaborating on this issue, we are much more likely to make meaningful and lasting progress than if each school attempts to tackle this critical issue on its own," Kim says.

The Collaborative model includes establishing a core work group on campus and working with the community to develop and implement new prevention strategies, says John Sanger, director of SMU's Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in the Health Center. Much of the work is based on principles of data-driven continuous quality improvement pioneered by American statistician W. Edwards Deming in the postwar Japanese manufacturing industry, he adds.

"Deming's model has been applied very successfully to other public health topics, but never to binge drinking. It's really a new approach," Sanger says.

SMU’s team includes Sanger and Health Center Coordinator Jan McCutchin, as well as Mary Logan of the Office of Student Affairs and Galen Laprocido, health educator in the Health Center. The team also includes Vice President for Student Affairs Lori White, Assistant Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Student Retention Anthony Tillman,  Department of Psychology Chair Ernest Jouriles of Dedman College and Evelyn Ashley, assistant dean of Student Life and director of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

The group also includes student member Nick Jehlik. Jehlik, a junior marketing major in SMU's Cox School of Business, lives with a daily reminder of the cost of high-risk drinking: He attends the University on a scholarship named for a student from his high school who died after a suspected drinking binge.

"This Learning Collaborative shares information, concepts and measurement techniques that can help decrease high-risk drinking on campus. Ultimately, this effort can help save lives," Jehlik says. "Given my proximity to the effects of high-risk drinking I believe I can represent the SMU student body in helping to make our campus safer."

The group has attended learning sessions in Vermont and Austin and will travel to Washington, D.C., in July. The team is conducting monthly student surveys and tracking hospital transports, alcohol-related incidents and consequences of high-risk drinking on campus.

"We plan to share both successes and challenges as we learn how to apply these quality improvement cycles to high-risk drinking," Sanger says.

"Although the SMU binge drinking rate has remained relatively stable and below the national average over the last four or five years, we’ve seen reductions in negative consequences reported by students as a result of their drinking," Sanger says.

Jehlik says he has met with high-ranking SMU officials to share a student perspective. "One of the main points of this effort is to record accurately the drinking habits of students on-campus," he says. "Surveys and other measurement tools should be taken seriously, and students must understand the anonymity of them. Once we are able to gather truthful and sound information, we can use it to make informed decisions and effective legislation to lower high-risk drinking.

"It is inspiring to see how other universities implement ideas, surveys and legislation in which they can measure the effects," he adds. "And it is humbling to be part of such a great initiative and surrounded by such a well-rounded SMU team."

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SMU News & Communications, 214-768-7650, smunews@smu.edu