College-bound students engage in risky behaviors

Students visit the Duke campus on a tour Wednesday. A recent study shows that many high school students engage in illicit behavior while on college visits.
Students visit the Duke campus on a tour Wednesday. A recent study shows that many high school students engage in illicit behavior while on college visits.

Sixteen percent of teens visiting college campuses admit to drinking alcohol during their stay.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at Susquehanna University and Students Against Destructive Decisions sought to examine the safety of student hosts and visitors during overnight college visits.

Although Duke employs strict policies to prevent such inappropriate conduct during visits, conduct violations result in students getting their admissions rescinded once every two or three years, said Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions.

The study, based on the responses of 270 college visitors aged 16 to 19, found that, aside from the 16 percent who drank alcohol, 17 percent engaged in sexual activities and 5 percent used drugs other than alcohol.

“Teens need to understand the choices they might be faced with and their consequences,” said CARE Director Stephen Wallace. “What is their response going to be, and how are they going to make the decision they want to make?”

More than half of the surveyed students who either consumed alcohol or had sex were doing so for the first time in their lives.

The survey was a follow-up to a study also conducted by CARE in 2003, which found that 26 percent of visitors were drinking alcohol, 28 percent were engaging in sexual behavior and 22 percent were using drugs.

The earlier study encompassed all visits, including those to see siblings and friends, but the recent survey focused specifically on students visiting for the admissions process, which in part explains the lower numbers, Wallace noted.

Flawed perceptions

First time behavior is a particular cause for concern, because it can establish risky behavior as a social norm for college students, Wallace said.

“It creates a perception that that’s what college life is all about,” he said. “Sixteen-year-olds absorb the culture and establish behavioral patterns that will last throughout their four years in college.”

He noted that visiting students may feel pressured by older college students to engage in activities they might otherwise reject. Parents therefore play a key role in establishing expectations for their children and engaging them in dialogue about decision-making.

Academic institutions can also establish measures to prevent risky behavior by visiting students and to protect visitors and their hosts, he said. Visits can be shortened and moved from the weekend to weekdays, when fewer parties are held. Universities can also train hosts and require them to sign contracts, Wallace said.

At Duke, hosts and admitted students participating in Blue Devil Days—a series of two-day admitted student programs when visitors can stay overnight with freshmen hosts—are required to adhere to the Duke Community Standard by signing a consent form, undergraduate admissions officer Morgan Kirkland, Trinity ’11, wrote in an email Monday. The consent form explicitly prohibits the possession and consumption of illegal drugs and alcohol for underage individuals. Visiting students are also required to communicate with their hosts about their whereabouts and planned activities.

Few reports at Duke

The undergraduate admissions office usually handles one or two pre-enrollment conduct violations each year, Guttentag said. In cases of serious conduct violations, the responsible student meets with Guttentag and Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek over the summer, whereupon the students may be asked to reapply or be required to take a gap year depending on the degree of violation.

Students are rarely prohibited from reapplying, he added.

Although Kirkland said there were no official reports of violations this year, parties, alcohol consumption and visits to Shooters II are certainly part of Blue Devil Days.

Tiffany Dong, a sophomore, said she was one of the few prospective freshmen who stayed in the dormitories instead of attending a party and was surprised to hear that so many visitors were going out.

Josh Izzard, also a sophomore, said he briefly attended a party during his overnight stay and that it was the most uncomfortable he felt during the whole visit.

“It was the weirdest part of the whole experience,” Izzard said. “It would be difficult to ban, but cutting down on [parties] would definitely be an improvement.”

He noted that hosts should emphasize alternative night-time activities, such as Devils After Dark events, to reduce the amount of partying during Blue Devil Days.

On a broader level, the overnight college visiting environment is improving, Wallace said, citing the 2003 survey.

“Directionally, there has been a heightened awareness and many colleges and universities are taking steps,” Wallace said. “At the same time, it remains a serious problem that we need to continue to combat.”


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