Augustana is truly “The Place for Possibilities.”
Here on hallowed Viking grounds, it’s possible to ace a calculus exam at 2 p.m., drown in Everclear at 8 p.m. and spend the rest of the night passed out sideways on a theme house couch, head smashed in a bucket of bile. It’s possible to wake up the next morning with no memory, laugh it off and repeat the next weekend. Here at Augustana, students can live out the core value of excellence by chugging beers faster than their classmates, naive to the dangers of alcohol poisoning.
But, who can blame them? The only alcohol education the university mandates is an online tutorial completed before students even step on campus. Afterward, they are thrown to the wolves for four years, left to swallow UV Blue and chug Four Lokos mindlessly, praying to God they wake up the next morning.
Certainly, Augustana needs better alcohol education.
The current system functions more as a meaningless item on the university’s checklist, rather than an effective educational tool. At Augustana, all incoming freshmen must complete Alcohol Edu: a two-hour online training program that students can mindlessly click through while simultaneously battling their cousin in Fortnite.
And that’s it. For the next four years, we never hear about alcohol again. It’s a fat middle finger to anyone who has watched their blacked-out friend clutch a bathroom sink with glazed-over eyes, anyone who has seen an unconscious student carried out of an off-campus party and into the nearest hospital.
This lackadaisical attitude could mean one of two things for Augustana’s higher-ups: either they truly don’t believe drinking is a problem on campus or they truly don’t care.
Neither mindset reflects well on the university.
Augustana’s image isn’t the only casualty in the war against alcohol education. Uninformed students would benefit from heightened awareness.
According to a 2014 article in The New York Times, about 40 percent of college students engage in binge drinking behavior — which typically refers to consuming more than four drinks (men) or more than three drinks (women) in a two-hour time frame. If unmonitored, such behavior can lead to alcohol poisoning: a medical condition in which high levels of alcohol suppress the nervous and respiratory systems and the body struggles to rid itself from toxins, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Because alcohol poisoning can lead to permanent brain damage or death, increased alcohol education on campus can literally save lives.
Still, people believe that Augustana doesn’t need to focus on alcohol education — we aren’t a “party school” like the University of South Dakota (USD), whose students are now knee-deep in D-Days hangover vomit. In reality, Augustana’s foundation constitutes several risk factors for binge drinking culture. Sure, we don’t host keggers at Tri-Kappa Vodka Omega, but Augustana doesn’t need Greek life to encourage alcoholism; athletics also play a prominent role.
According to numerous peer-reviewed studies, college athletes drink alcohol in greater quantities than their non-athlete classmates. At stereotypical party schools like USD and South Dakota State University (SDSU), student-athletes constitute around 5 percent of the undergraduate population. By comparison, Augustana is a sports nirvana, where a staggering 22 percent of undergraduates are athletes. In other words, nearly one in every four Vikings carries a significant risk factor for binge drinking.
When a college’s athletic teams are successful, the risks multiply, according to the NIAAA.
Augustana boasts a tradition of athletic excellence. During the last four years, the university has earned NCAA Division II national championship titles in men’s basketball, women’s heptathlon, softball and baseball. That’s four trophies — and a whole lot of celebratory liquor.
By 2030, the university aims to compete in Division I, taking its athletic prestige and Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) to the next level. If this transitional decade doesn’t include an increase in alcohol education, Augustana’s binge drinking culture will spiral out of control. And the last thing this image-obsessed university needs is to wait for a student fatality — a tragedy, yes, but also a public relations scandal — to prompt change.
To catalyze real change, the university cannot simply throw another mindless Alcohol Edu at its students. Rather, Augustana needs to implement effective, research-based strategies.
The NIAAA reports that a mix of strategies is most effective when curbing problematic alcohol culture on campus. Because an involved campus community can be a powerful intervention tool, Augustana needs an alcohol abuse awareness club — akin to what “It’s On Us” does for sexual assault awareness — that posts flyers about the effects and symptoms of alcohol poisoning, sponsors educated speakers and pressures the university to consistently enforce alcohol policies.
Once Augustana takes initiative on its alcohol education, it’s possible for students to finish their calculus exam and celebrate responsibly — falling asleep without poisoned brain cells or the impending fear of death.