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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Two weekends result in six alcohol-related hospitalizations

Published: September 16, 2011
Section: Front Page

As new students arrived on campus and acclimated to Brandeis party life, the first two weekends of the semester left nine students requiring treatment by the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) for alcohol poisoning, with six of them needing transports to Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

These cases come after a year when Pachanga, the International Club’s fall dance, on Oct. 23, 2010, led to a renewed focus on student alcohol abuse with the Alcohol and Drug Policy Committee.

The committee was established at the behest of then-President Jehuda Reinharz due to the fact that on the night of Pachanga last fall, nine students needed transports to local area hospitals. This incident led to a lack of available ambulances in surrounding towns, as resources were busy transporting Brandeis students to hospitals. The committee was established with the goal of reviewing university policies concerning drugs and alcohol to prevent future incidences such as those at Pachanga from occurring again.

Professor Leonard Saxe chaired the committee, with his experience in the field including a report he authored to Congress concerning the government’s role in dealing with alcohol abuse. The committee also included Director of Public Saftey Ed Callahan, Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams, and Alcohol and Drug Counselor Dawn Skop.

When asked about the nature of the problem of incidents related to drugs and alcohol, the rationale behind the creation of the committee, and whether last year had higher rates than other years, Saxe described a focus on the big picture rather than on isolated incidents.

“Incidents the night of the last Pachanga were the catalyst for then-President Reinharz creating the committee, but our focus was much broader,” Saxe said. “Nevertheless, the committee’s position was that the absolute number of incidents is less important than acknowledging the seriousness of the broader issue, one that faces campuses nationwide. When a student is transported to the hospital, it indicates that there was a serious problem.”

Saxe acknowledged that last weekend had a higher rate of alcohol-related transports compared to others and also maintained that any such incidences are negative for the students in question and for the campus on the whole.

“Having four students sent to the hospital is a ‘bad’ weekend—regardless of whether it is more or less than other weekends, or more or less than at other universities,” Saxe said. “It means that the lives of four students were at great risk and that the environment on campus was disrupted. It is, however, a higher rate than most weekends.”

Saxe furthermore evaluated when these incidents happen most often, claiming that “incidents cluster—at the beginning, middle and end of each semester.

An issue to be concerned with is whether or not Brandeis has a unique culture when it comes to drinking. Perhaps there are issues specific to Brandeis that other schools do not have or issues that other schools have that we do not really need to be as concerned with. According to Saxe, Brandeis does have a distinct culture, but this is no reason not to be concerned and take action.

“My sense is that our culture is somewhat different than other schools and the magnitude of alcohol problems at Brandeis may be less than at other campuses,” he said. “But students here are affected by the same trends that affect students elsewhere and it would be surprising if there weren’t problems.”

All of the four transports last weekend to Newton-Wellesley Hospital were students aged between 18 and 19 years old. Furthermore, three of these reports were called in from first-year dormitories. Saxe commented on this trend of younger students having more of an issue with alcohol than older students.

The committee’s strategy relied on deliberation among the members of the group, a town hall meeting, the opinions of experts from both the Heller School and the National Institutes of Health, graduate student-run focus groups of undergraduates and interviews with a wide variety of Brandeis staff.

The Committee, according to Saxe, has been coming closer to reaching a point at which policy changes can be made.

“We submitted a draft report to President Reinharz and President Lawrence at the end of our deliberations,” he said. “Now that a senior vice president for students and enrollment has arrived on campus (he began two weeks ago), President Lawrence and he are considering our recommendations.”

New Senior Vice President of Students Andrew Flagel commented on the report as well as the issues leading up to the creation of the committee. Like Saxe, Flagel feels that this is a national problem. Flagel furthermore feels that Brandeis could potentially serve as a national model for how to cope effectively with issues related to drugs and alcohol.

When asked about his experiences arriving at Brandeis, Flagel explained that with regard to the issues addressed by the committee, he feels very positive.

According to Flagel, issues related to drugs and alcohol so often can have negative connotations, and yet when he observed the actions taken by Brandeis to form the committee and create a report, he found a positive energy in that something was already being done to address the issues.

“Brandeis has developed a very strong proactive environment,” Flagel said about the university’s already-effective support system. He explained that he feels that students watch out for each other’s well-being.

Saxe said that a main goal in the report is to improve communication within the support system and to students.

Flagel said that there needs to be an on-going effort to research these issues, with more sophisticated data. Specifically, he finds that what we know about now is the worst incidences of drug and alcohol abuse.

We do not, in his opinion, know enough about other incidences. Flagel made it clear, however, that in this effort to research the issues more thoroughly, he does not want to become invasive in student privacy. Lastly, there will be an effort to continue to offer other activities to students.

When presented with the some of the report’s policy ideas, including the idea of providing more activities to students as alternatives to drinking, Zahin Huq ’14 responded with approval and yet a certain level of doubt.

“I think it’s always cool to have more activities available on campus,” Huq said. “I know they may plan something but there [are] so many events on campus already that nobody shows up to, so if they could do some more research into what exactly the students want from these events that would be cool.”

Reflecting on his first eight months in office, university President Fred Lawrence said that community events without alcohol can help to address the issue of binge drinking, pointing to the successful and safe inaugural ball held in April.

“The Saturday night after the inauguration, when we had something like 1,800 kids down in Gosman for that inaugural ball,” Lawrence said in an interview with The Hoot last month. “And would you like to know how many kids got hospitalized that night after that event? The correct answer would be zero. I mean that’s unbelievable.

“That tells me that there’s a real potential here for more things we can do as a community,” he said.

Lys Joseph ’14, however, responded with more skepticism.

“If somebody wants to drink, if somebody wants to do drugs or stuff like that then they’re always going to do it,” Joseph said. “People are going to do what they want to do … even if you put so many restrictions on it people are still going to do what they want to do. … You can suppress it, but I feel like it’s always going to be there.”