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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Drug committee report released

Published: October 7, 2011
Section: Front Page

Last Tuesday, the ad-hoc Committee on Alcohol and Drug Policy released its report with recommendations. The possible changes in policy range from keeping Gosman open longer on weekends to having a mandatory online alcohol education course.

The 13-member committee was chaired by Professor Leonard Saxe (NEJS).

The report is divided into four main sections: health and safety, treatment, prevention and awareness, and environment and culture. Each section has an introduction summing up general views of the committee on how Brandeis is faring. Then each section lists ways in which the current system can be improved.

Commenting on the report, President Lawrence explained that the implementation of the recommendations will be the responsibility of Andrew Flagel, senior vice president of students and enrollment.

When asked, however, about the nature of some of the recommendations and prospects for future action, Flagel made it clear that this report is only a stepping stone.

“The broad recommendations in the report are a welcome opportunity to explore many of these issues in more detail and we are in the midst of that effort,” Flagel said. “In some cases this means assigning staff members and building working groups, in others providing more detail on the many efforts already underway.”

Positive sentiments were expressed concerning a number of issues. According to the report, Brandeis is quite effective at handling urgent medical emergencies.

“Medical personnel, both those connected with Brandeis and those at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, confirm that our transfers for patient care are appropriate and necessary,” Flagel continued. “BEMCo’s availability allows many cases to be handled without an ambulance transport to an emergency room and provides a critical safety net for the campus.”

The report expressed that medical treatment is regarded positively. The introduction to this section also cites how different departments, including the Department of Community Living, Public Safety and the Health Center, meet together to collaborate and identify at-risk students.

“The committee is satisfied that Brandeis offers excellent treatment services for students who are identified as being at-risk for alcohol and drug problems. Both the Psychological Counseling Center and the Health Center provide treatment for students with alcohol and drug as well as mental issues,” said Flagel.

Lawrence praised the report for publicizing the success of these resources. Furthermore, according to the committee, despite high-quality prevention and education, more can be done.

“The committee recognizes that Brandeis offers a number of high-quality prevention and education programs offered by the Alcohol and Drug Specialist and peer educators throughout the school year. That said, more can be done and it will likely require that additional resources be devoted to these educational endeavors,” Lawrence said.

In addition to high-quality medical treatment, the committee placed a high level of importance on environment and community. The report explained that a strategy focusing on the nature of the Brandeis campus could be very beneficial.

“The committee strongly recommends that more attention be paid to the environment that promotes positive Brandeis values and reduces harmful alcohol and drug use,” Lawrence added. “Potentially, positive changes to the environment for student life at Brandeis can do more than any other effort to protect students.”

The committee offered a wide range of ideas on how best to move forward. While the report explained the competence of BEMCo, it also suggested that BEMCo’s procedures need to be more publicized. This includes ensuring that students are not “afraid” to call due to concerns about possible judicial action, as well as educating the student body about the nature of confidentiality with regard to BEMCo reports.

Saxe explained the issues with BEMCo as primarily stemming from confusion. Saxe spoke of the possibility that perhaps, if a student were to hit another student and BEMCo were to show up to treat injuries of the assaulted, then the Brandeis Police would show up as well. The students around, however, would then consequently associate BEMCo and the police with one another, and therefore assume a call to BEMCo would result in negative consequences from the police. Saxe feels it is crucial to make sure students who need medical attention get it without hesitation over possible consequences.

In addition, the report recommended creating a way to screen students for drug and alcohol use during routine annual physical exams. Under prevention and education, the report considered hiring more prevention staff a top priority.

“Currently, a single counselor is responsible for providing primary treatment services and prevention education for a campus of nearly 5,000 students. Investing, particularly in prevention services, is cost-effective and should be a top priority,” Lawrence said.

The report also includes recommendations to collect more data through surveys, BEMCo reports and public safety reports in addition to recommendations for peer education.

One of the major complaints heard by the committee when talking to students was the lack of weekend activity. The report describes the possibilities of extending operation hours for Gosman, the Library and the Stein on weekends to provide more social gathering places. The proposed changes are designed to encourage a greater student body presence at sporting events and to create more weekend activities. There is also a mention of considering “the relationship of unrecognized fraternities and sororities to the student body.”

The committee also recommended taking a “social norms” approach, and providing education through active and passive programming at times of the year that are “high-risk.” A social norms approach, defined by Professor Ralph W. Hingson of the National Institutes of Health, would notify students of the actual number of students using alcohol and drugs. Studies in the past have indicated college students think more of their peers are drinking than actually are. Saxe advocates spreading the information of how many students are actually drinking and doing drugs in order to avoid confusion.

Saxe reflected that there are certain guidelines in different buildings across campus on appropriate behavior and how there are certain rules students are expected to follow. Therefore the proposed recommendations do not represent an attempt on the part of Brandeis to change the student body culture.

These examples, according to Saxe, are representations of Brandeis attempting to uphold norms which are no different than attempts to create norms of health with regard to drinking. “People once thought it was not possible to get people to use less paper or take other environmentally sound actions but that over time it certainly became possible to create these norms,” Saxe continued.

“The recommendations have to be taken very seriously,” Lawrence said. “The health of our students is vitally important, and mental health is part of that. Our position is more contained than many other universities.”

Saxe explained that while the report did take other schools into account, the focus was on Brandeis. According to Saxe, the committee wanted to look at Brandeis policies in relation to those of other schools. In order to do this, the committee made contact with students from other local schools and based the entire framework of their work on studies done by governmental organizations.

Saxe explained that the committee did not have the time or the resources to do a comprehensive study of the severity of the problem within the framework of Brandeis itself.

The report made it clear that the committee’s primary goal is the safety of students.

“We took the position that the health and safety of each student is important. Thus, whether the alcohol and drug situation is better or worse than [on] other campuses or whether there has been deterioration or an improvement at Brandeis with respect to alcohol and drug use, was not investigated,” said Saxe.

Other members of the Brandeis community on the committee included Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, and Alcohol and Drugs Counselor Dawn Skop. The committee was created last year following a request by then-President Jehuda Reinharz that university alcohol and drug policies be reviewed after a school-sponsored party saw several student arrests for disorderly conduct. The committee deliberated for the final six weeks of the fall 2010 semester.