In his book "Dying to Drink," Henry Wechsler, director of the Harvard School of Public Health's College Alcohol Study, quoted a law school student: "In the university, we have entire generations that are learning to consume alcohol in an institutional way." Wechsler notes that alcohol is very much a part of the college scene, but it has a very dark side.
In North Carolina, the sale of beer and wine has always been prohibited on the campus or property of a public school or college, except for regional entertainment facilities on school property for non-school functions, and unless the business selling beer or wine is a hotel or nonprofit alumni association with a liquor-by-the-drink permit or a special-occasion permit.
Last year this was amended with the passage of legislation that made an additional exception of the sale of beer and wine on UNC campuses by permitting sales at performing arts centers on property owned or leased by institutions of the university, provided the seating capacity does not exceed 2,000 people.
This year another exception is being considered by lawmakers. At the request of the Board of Governors, the General Assembly is being asked to allow golf courses owned or leased by constituent institutions of the UNC system and that are open to the public to sell beer and wine.
Although these exceptions may seem relatively harmless, they send the wrong message to students at a time when problem drinking on college campuses is prevalent.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 73 percent of fraternity and 57 percent of sorority members are binge drinkers. Fifty-eight percent of male athletes and 47 percent of female athletes are binge drinkers. Approximately 1,400 college students aged 18 to 24 are killed every year as a result of some alcohol-related incident.
It should also be noted the recent Duke lacrosse fiasco was an alcohol-related incident, and several team members had campus records for alcohol violations.
Eliminating alcohol outlets, not adding them on college property, is a proven, successful strategy for protecting students. The Harvard study also concluded that though alcohol use is high for both colleges and universities that allow and ban alcohol, 21 percent fewer students at "ban" institutions are heavy episodic drinkers. "Students at ban colleges are more likely to abstain from alcohol completely. Three in ten students (29 percent) at ban schools abstain compared to only one in six students (16 percent) at non-ban colleges."
What makes the difference at ban colleges? No doubt it's the leadership offered by the administration an acknowledgement that alcohol is a problem for many students and that the best approach is to keep it relatively inaccessible while students should be focused on training and academics.
Interestingly, the General Assembly has in recent years courageously banned smoking in public museums, libraries, prisons and public health centers. A bill is pending that would ban smoking in the legislative building. Rep. Rick Glazier, sponsor of the legislation, argued that lawmakers should lead the public on smoking by refraining from lighting up in the people's buildings.
Glazier is right. But wouldn't lawmakers do just as well to strike a powerful blow for the public's health, and for public education, by reminding the Board of Governors that there is a serious problem with alcohol use and abuse on college campuses? The least UNC could do is to freeze the number of alcohol outlets currently available on its property, not add to them.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.