Community-based study confronts alcohol abuse

In the University’s most recent effort to curb high-risk drinking activities, Duke is reaching out to community members in order to discuss strategies to reduce alcohol-related problems.

As one of 10 universities participating in a $3.2 million statewide research study conducted by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Duke is one of five universities developing an intervention program that will last from January 2004 to December 2006. The other five schools in the study with serve as comparison points.

“The idea of this program is about involving and connecting students with the community,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta, who was involved with preparations for the Wake study to come to Duke. “I don’t think there’s any other way to deal with this.”

BlueSPARC, the Duke branch of the Wake project called the Study to Prevent Alcohol Related Consequences, is spearheaded by Campus-Community Organizer Claire Feldman-Riordan, whose mission is to develop a community-based approach to reduce college students’ high-risk alcohol use.

“It’s a really difficult situation. I hear so many people who are critical and upset about the alcohol policy on campus,” Feldman-Riordan said. “We need to look at this in a community-based, grassroots way to provide more options that make high-risk drinking less likely to occur.”

The study comes at a time when campus attention is focused on the tensions between students living off-campus and the Durham residents.

“I think the greatest challenge will be the process—getting groups to talk together who generally don’t have the chance to,” Feldman-Riordan said. “But I don’t see any reason why students and neighbors can’t work together to come up with some solution.”

As part of larger collaborative efforts between the Duke University and Durham Police Departments to curb off-campus drinking, BlueSPARC worked with neighbors during the first days of move-in period to distribute door hangers and welcome bags with cookies and a letter warning students of alcohol-related rowdiness.

Senior Joe Kennedy lives in one of the houses targeted by BlueSPARC’s welcome bag initiative. “It was nice. The cookies were good,” said Kennedy, who lives in “Blue House” on Markham Avenue with seven of his fellow lacrosse teammates. “They’re still going to call the cops on us. You obviously can’t have big parties with 200 people anymore. I don’t want to go to jail.”

Despite immediate positive responses from students and community members, University-neighborhood antagonism will continue to remain a challenge to the BlueSPARC initiative, Feldman-Riordan said, noting this past weekend’s onslaught of student arrests at off-campus parties.

“There’s been a whole history behind why there were so many police out,” she said. “Alcohol policies on campus changed, so students said they’re going to drink off campus. Neighbors said that’s not fair and that they’re going to call the police. The students still partied and the neighbors got really, really unhappy, criticizing the police. The neighbors got pitted against the students. The police were pitted against everyone.

“The key to success will be a community-based approach—putting our heads together and figuring out strategies together,” Feldman-Riordan said.

To Durham resident Christina Headrick, the issue of college high-risk drinking goes beyond the loud music at 3 a.m. and students vomiting on neighborhood cars. She pointed to a recent statistic that states 70,000 cases of sexual assault and date rape involve alcohol each year, citing a 2002 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that summarizes data on college-age drinking research.

“For me it’s more than the trash and the noise from the parties,” said Headrick, who hosted a party for 40 people at her home last weekend. “I really think it’s a public health issue. It’s clear to me from looking at these statistics that student alcohol abuse and use often leads to consequences that can really affect someone’s life. This is a national problem; this isn’t just a Duke issue.”

BlueSPARC is currently in the process of its strategic planning for the program, and Feldman-Riordan said she hopes to see the plans come to fruition next spring semester. A student advisory council and a broader coalition that will participate in alcohol awareness initiatives are currently in the planning stages.

Although the BlueSPARC initiatives will bring issues of parties and drinking to the forefront for the next couple of years, students, neighbors and administrators all recognize that changing college social habits is a longer-term project.

“It’s unrealistic to eliminate alcohol from a college campus, but it is possible for a community coalition to curb the worst of the worst abuse,” Headrick said. “Of course, it’ll take a long time—I mean, I would like to hope that we will see results in the coming years, but it’s probably going to take a lot longer.”


Share and discuss “Community-based study confronts alcohol abuse” on social media.