Within the first few weeks and months, students create fun memories and habits. This is a time of transition, with free time and the potential for choices about drinking alcohol to interfere with a students’ achievement at Gonzaga. Underage drinking happens on nearly every college campus, and Gonzaga is no exception. It’s just part of college. Drinking may look exciting and fun to students as they arrive on campus. These young students are learning to make many decisions and drinking is one of them. One student didn’t know how to refuse a beer. I heard about student regrets from drinking. It opened the discussion for how to drink at lower and much safer levels or not at all. What I hear most often is the misperception that all students are drinking, they are drinking a lot and that is the way to fit in. In self reported surveys over five years, students consistently overestimated the amount and frequency of drinking that they believe students are doing on campus as compared to the reality. As I keep listening, I hear that drinking is no big deal. Since 2003, Gonzaga has utilized the best practices and research available in addressing this issue and in 2005, received recognition from the U.S. Department of Education as a Model Program, holding Gonzaga up as a standard for other schools across the country. We continue with these efforts today.
Parents often wonder, “What is my role?” or “When should I get involved. There is a way you can help your son or daughter make healthier choices. Drinking is perceived as a social experience and a normal part of campus life or “it’s ok as long as I keep my grades up, and my parents are ok with it.” The research suggests that if students know what their parent’s believe, then they will make healthier choices or choose not to drink at all. Each student makes a choice and evaluates the risks and benefits associated with drinking. Students have mixed feelings about drinking, the good experiences and the not-so-good ones; yet they typically do not consider the not-so-good ones. Students want to make their own choice to drink or not and you can help them by asking about their own personal thoughts and opinions. Ask what they think is good or fun about it and what is not as much fun. Talk about what is relevant to your son or daughter and ask if they want to hear your thoughts. Explain what you would expect of your son or daughter. An example may be to say that the best choice is choosing not to drink, and there are many consequences—like the not so good things mentioned (list them). Then give your expectation. If they suggest there is “nothing else to do”, there is. There are clubs and orgs, intramurals, leadership roles, movies, bowling, ice skating in the winter and all of it easily accessible. They may need to make an effort to seek these out, but it is a responsibility that you can expect them to take on. Challenge them to organize a group of friends to go on hikes and cook food together or go on a Search or retreat from University Ministry for the weekend—they are fun; students like them. If your student slips up, and they often do, you will typically be contacted on a first time alcohol violation. You can express your disappointment, ask what your son or daughter has learned from the experience and what he or she will choose to do in the future. Students have said that they have responded in different ways to avoid the pressure of drinking. Some avoid heavy drinkers, others say they have work to do and can’t be hung over or say they want to stay healthy. All of these answers work.