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W&M, local community to join nationwide look at underage drinking

  • SOE grant
    SOE grant  Charles F. Gressard, left, and Jill Russett at the School of Education oversee a project to study high-risk drinking and behavior among college students.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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As part of a nationwide effort to understand underage drinking, the College of William and Mary will hold a town hall meeting on April 2 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. in the Sadler Center. Students, professionals, officials, and community members are invited to attend.

During the event, people from across the campus will join with community members, businesses and organizations to focus on drinking among college students and to develop a campus-community approach to the issue. The event is sponsored by William & Mary in collaboration with the Federal Government’s Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking. Last year, William & Mary’s School of Education was one of 20 recipients across the country to receive federal funding to study high-risk drinking and behavior among college students.

“Our focus is to bring together different segments of campus and the local community to discuss the issue of underage drinking,” said Jill Russett, who serves as project coordinator for the program at William & Mary, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. William & Mary’s event is one of hundreds of town hall meetings taking place on college campuses at the same time, she added. “We will look at the impact of substance use and discuss best practices for educational efforts and prevention.”

Underage drinking among college students has long been a national concern, Russett said. In 2007, the Office of the Surgeon General identified high-risk drinking by college students as a major public health problem. The impact of excessive underage drinking among college students affects virtually all aspects of college campuses and extends out into the surrounding communities, she added.

“Each year, 1,700 college students nationwide between the ages of 18 and 24 die from unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes,” Russett said. “Other serious issues related to alcohol use include assault, sexual abuse and academic problems.  Less serious incidents, though still of significant concern, include vandalism, property damage, and other related health concerns.”

A series of studies, Russett added, indicate that the rates of alcohol use among college students exceed that of their non-college attending peers. Additionally, data from the 2008 National Household Survey of Drug Use and Health indicates that among full-time college students in 2008, 61.0 percent were current drinkers, 40.5 percent binge drank (five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) and 16.3 percent were heavy drinkers (five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days), she said.

During Friday’s town hall meeting, nationally recognized speaker, Dr. Sally Linowski, director of the Center of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will discuss national trends on drinking and education efforts. She will present the best prevention practices for college campuses and surrounding communities as recommended by the NIAAA (National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). In addition, attendees will enter into a discussion about the impact that underage drinking has on the campus and community, present ongoing education efforts, and collaborate to develop new strategies. Representatives from the William & Mary Police Department, Williamsburg Police, Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Student Affairs, and local businesses will take part in the discussion.

For more information on the town hall meeting, contact Jill Russett, ( / 757-784-4271) or Rick Gressard ( / 757-221-2352).