April 20, 2001

GT SMART trying to change alcohol environment; takes time and money

By Dr. Lee Wilcox
Vice President for Student Affairs
April 20, 2001

Everyone likes a good joke. So those of us working with the GT SMART program smiled-if a little grimly-at the Technique's recent April Fool's Day story, "GT Stupid." However, last week's editorial suggesting that GT Smart was a misguided waste of funds made it clear that beyond the humor, there is a serious lack of understanding regarding GT SMART's efforts to reduce high-risk drinking here at Georgia Tech.

In a nutshell, GT Smart is trying to change the environment around alcohol here on campus; we are also working with other coalitions and groups to change the alcohol environment in the Atlanta area as well. Here are some of the environmental factors that have been shown to affect student drinking, along with what GT SMART is doing to try to reduce their impact:

Problem: There are pervasive messages, through ads, movies, peers, etc. that binge drinking is part of the "normal" college experience. The alcoholic beverage industry spends over $2 billion in advertising a year, much of which promotes young adult drinking as the norm.

GT SMART response: An ad campaign to counter alcohol industry messages and show the serious consequences of alcohol misuse.

Problem: Alcohol is abundantly available and inexpensive, both to of-age and underage students.

GT SMART response: Reduce availability of alcohol to underage students, who are most likely to suffer harm from alcohol. Two recent policy changes-requiring keg registration and increasing the age of entry into Atlanta bars to 21-were supported by GT SMART.

Problem: There are few inexpensive social and recreational opportunities for students that do not involve alcohol.

GT SMART response: Increase recreational activities that are not centered on excessive alcohol use. We have supported numerous student social activities, and are developing a Student Guide to Atlanta that will focus on fun things to do for students of all ages that do not involve alcohol.

Problem: Fraternities are preceived as places where alcohol consumption is encouraged and binge drinking is prevalent.

GT SMART response: Collaborated with the IFC to revise fraternity party policy by increasing security personnel for ID checking, creating a peer observer program, requiring wrist bands, and increasing sober monitors.

Problem: The true costs of alcohol misuse are not paid by those who cause them, namely the irresponsible drinkers and sellers of alcoholic beverages. Over half of the costs of alcohol and other drug abuse are paid by society.

GT SMART response: Identify off-campus areas with high densities of alcohol sales and alcohol-related problems; make off-campus students aware of the impact their actions have on those around them. We can then find ways to reduce alcohol related problems such as noise, violence, and vandalism.

GT SMART is also working to make students feel more a part of the community around them. Colleges whose students have high levels of civic involvement have reduced levels of binge drinking. Certainly, long-term goals such as this take time - specifically, paid staff time. But we believe the end result will be well worth it.

Alcohol misuse is no laughing matter; neither are the side effects suffered both by binge drinkers and those around them. GT SMART is trying to reduce high-risk drinking among GT students by creating an environment where it's easier for them to make good choices. We hope even more students will participate in GT SMART projects next year, and help us make this a fun place to live and a safe place to learn.

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