Booze and books

By on October 21, 2008

By Emory Williamson And Dennis O’Neil

Waving her hands in front of a red Dixie cup filled to the brim with beer, Nicole Emberg attempts to distract the two guys at the other end of the table.
 As her hands move back and forth swiftly, Eric Winstead pulls his arm back to a 90-degree angle and lightly floats a white ping pong ball into the air.
 The ball hits the top of the cup, rims around the edge and falls onto the wooden table.
 Emberg, with her teammate, Marissa Hibbs, a fellow peer at St. Catherine College in Bardstown, scream in elation, knowing they have secured victory in the drinking game known as Beer Pong.
 “Yes!,” exclaimed Emberg, as she gives high fives to her onlooking girlfriends.  
Winstead and his team partner, bar owner William Harlow, hang their heads in defeat.
“Owner gets beat by girls,” says Robbie Keith, another employee at the bar, grinning at Harlow.
 “Shut up, man” says a perturbed Harlow.
 Beer Pong, a consistent party and bar favorite, is part of a growing trend of alcohol-related issues that have often plagued college campuses, causing some American institutions to ban the game.
Schools such as Georgetown University and University of Massachusetts at Amherst, have found the game to be detrimental to their students as well as their campus image.
 “We believe drinking games are risky and unwise,” said Andy Pino, director of media relations at Georgetown in an e-mail to The Louisville Cardinal. “Our policy highlights the risks of drinking games and encourages our students to be thoughtful about how they socialize.”
 Pino added that students who are of legal drinking age may possess beer pong tables, but that violations involving alcohol-related drinking games will receive more severe sanctions.
Assistant Dean of Students Michelle Clemons said that the University of Louisville has not formally banned beer pong, but that the university’s alcohol guidelines for recognized student organizations prohibit drinking games.
Clemons said that RSO’s can only host events with alcohol on campus at a few locations, such as the University Club or the Brown and Williamson Club at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. And even with off campus RSO events, strict guidelines must be followed.
“If a group is hosting an event with alcohol, they must also provide alternate beverages and food,” Clemons said. “Underage participants must also have wristbands and show I.D. There are a lot of restrictions.”
However, alcohol related issues in college extend far beyond beer pong and other drinking games. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that more than 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries in the U.S. Almost 600,000 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
Some like Randy Haveson think most colleges fall short in terms of alleviating alcohol related issues.  Haveson, a recovering alcoholic who has worked at three college campuses, said that college presidents often complain about alcohol-related incidents but, often due to tight budgets, don’t kick in the money for health education.
“We’ve been hearing ‘just say no’ for 20 years and that gets old and something new needs to come along,” said Haveson, who will be a guest speaker at U of L tomorrow during the university sponsored “Eat, Drink and Be Merry Week.”
Karen Newton, director of U of L health services, feels similarly, saying that the university has been more concerned with addressing alcohol violations and less with providing the ongoing conversation that might have prevented them.
“There really hasn’t been the type of ongoing conversation about alcohol education that there should be,” Newton said. “Every other college campus has an issue with this. I don’t know why U of L wouldn’t.”
Newton said that there are several policies that U of L might consider to curb student alcohol consumption. She said the university should consider not allowing the sale of alcohol all the way up to the fourth quarter of certain sporting events, and that scheduling more classes on Friday and earlier classes on Monday could lessen the amount of drinking that happens over time.
Haveson pointed some blame to society’s acceptance of public drunkenness. With bars and clubs contributing to some of the alcohol consumption of college students, several businesses have made it a priority to increase security.
Winstead said Harlow’s, formerly known as Tailgater’s, caters to the college-age demographic, but they had to clean up the image of the bar, which previously had issues with drunkenness and underage drinking.
“We’re doing our best to be as strict as we can to minimize that,” said Winstead, adding that the bar uses different colored wrist bands as well as random ID checks as means of curtailing potential problems with drinking.
Other establishments, such as The Pink Door, will have as many as three security guards working the entrances at some events.
“It doesn’t matter if you look 50 to me, you’re going to get carded,” said Tom Thomas, a security guard at the bar, who added that the bar often regulates drinking by offering taxi services such as City Scoot.
“If they have had their limit, we might tell them to sit down and relax, and maybe call a cab for them,” Thomas said.
Newton said that U of L is trying to emphasize this type of thinking in some of the new alcohol outreach programs being offered. She said that the U of L alcohol coalition, which has been meeting for about a year, is set to educate students about such things as blood-to-alcohol content, trying to get them to pace their drinking more. She also mentioned the issue of sexual assault while under the influence.
“A lot of the sexual assaults that we see on campus are alcohol and drug related,” Newton said. “People do things under the influence that they wouldn’t normally do. That is the education part that we are really trying to approach.”
U of L counselor Laura Byrd said she has seen some students become alcohol dependent in her years at the Counselling Center. She said one goal of the coalition is to provide students with the type of education that can keep this from happening.
“I’m not always startled by what students don’t know,” Byrd said. “I am more startled by what students know and do anyway.” 
The “Eat, Drink and Be Merry Week” began yesterday with a DUI simulator and continues today with an Alcohol Awareness and Safety Fair from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Haveson’s “Party With a Plan” will begin tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the Floyd Theatre at the Student Activities Center.

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