Kulley wages fight against alcohol abuse

Two years after a student died from complications related to binge drinking and a year after the Alcohol Task Force collapsed, then-interim vice president for student affairs Jim Clack handed specialist Jeff Kulley the tall task of advising the University on alcohol issues and counseling students.

The fabled Hideaway bar, a longtime undergraduate hangout, has folded and students continue to complain that Duke is forcing students to drink on the other side of East Campus' stone walls at off-campus parties or behind locked doors.

With his fresh outlook and experience at the University of Texas at Austin, Kulley wants a cultural revolution. "There are certain things about Duke University culture or just traditions that procreate some problems attached to alcohol," he said, explaining that although Duke's alcohol problems are not unique, the pre-party and party scenes are less dominant at UT-Austin.

"The thinking of drinking as almost a competitive sport to get buzzed as quickly as you can is really a high-risk approach.... People go almost immediately from sober to impaired," he said. "Just the party culture... so much of social life revolves around going to parties where drinking is very central."

Kulley may think big--he believes Duke must challenge the notion that rapid drinking is a normal approach to drinking and enjoying college. "People get drunk, puke up all over the place, act rude and then laugh about it and joke about it as if it was normal as opposed to seeing it as something that creates problems for other people," he said.

But he's not blind; he knows it will take time to implement change. Comparing his campaign to those that in the past 20 years limited smoking in public places and made seat belt use commonplace, Kulley said he is trying to bring the alcohol abuse prevention course Prime for Life to campus. The research-based program, he said, educates participants on the risks they may face from drinking.

He added that Student Affairs' new alcohol policy--which establishes a student party monitoring system and effectively makes it more difficult to distribute alcohol at campus events--was a step in the right direction.

Students, Kulley said, are off-base when they argue that there would be less alcohol abuse if Duke regularly held events with alcohol readily available.

"The argument that enforcement of drinking age restrictions leads to higher risk drinking--I would challenge that," he said.

"While that seems to be intuitively true to many students who drink in high risk ways..., it actually is not borne out by the research."

In fact, Kulley said that environments where alcohol flows freely can be the most dangerous--to this extent, he said he believes some of the recent policy changes will be effective.

He added that even cultures often heralded for consuming alcohol responsibly may not be as utopian as many think.

"In some European countries, alcohol is a part of everyday, social family functions, but those nations have their problems with alcoholism as well," Kulley said. "In that kind of environment, someone can develop a problem and not view it as a problem because it seems normal."

Kulley appears young and relaxed, preferring casual, Hawaiian shirts and loud ties to stiff suits, explaining that he does not want to intimidate students. "I think I have a sense of humor, so I'll try to wear things that have a sense of humor--silly ties," he said. "I think a person is more credible if they're real."

Although Kulley is young enough for students to know he remembers what college is like, Clack said the alcohol specialist, who holds a doctorate in psychology, is highly qualified and earnest. "He's a very sincere young man, and I think student knows he wants to help them," Clack said.


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