Issues related to college students and alcohol use are hardly new. In fact, in 1355 a fight over the quality of wine served to two Oxford University students escalated into a riot that left over 100 people dead.
The Mayor of Oxford complained to the King of England about the students, and the king responded by ordering the mayor to attend a mass every year on the day of the riot in remembrance of the students killed. This practice continued for 470 years.
While we have not had riots related to the quality of a glass of wine in Chapel Hill, our community is affected by high-risk drinking. So, unlike Oxford where the mayor sought relief from the king, in 2013 the mayor of Chapel Hill and the Chancellor of UNC came together to address high-risk drinking in our community. Today, that effort exists as a new organization called the Campus & Community Coalition.
The Campus & Community Coalition to Address the Negative Impacts of High-Risk Drinking is doing just what its name suggests – working to mitigate the harmful effects of risky alcohol use in our community.
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We define high-risk drinking as drinking in a way that increases the likelihood of negative consequences. Because state law prohibits alcohol use by those under 21, underage drinking is high-risk drinking, as is binge drinking. Negative consequences include such impacts as unplanned or unsafe sex, accidents, fights, or injuries. Additionally, secondhand effects of high-risk drinking can also impact peers and the wider community with disruptive neighborhood behaviors like noise, trash, vandalism, or property damage.
Rather than an adversarial relationship like the one in our Oxford example, the Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition is proof of true collaboration between not just the town and university, but also between partners from across Chapel Hill. Our coalition is funded equally by the town of Chapel Hill, UNC, the Orange County Health Department, and the Orange County ABC Board. Additionally, the coalition members are business owners, neighborhood residents, students, and representatives from our funding groups. All of us recognize that to create change, we must work together.
We are approaching this work with a public health mindset. This framework allows us to see the issue as one of policies and systems, rather than just problems with individuals. To use a popular analogy, when you come across a sick fish in a river, the public health model doesn’t just treat the sick fish and move on. Rather, the public health model encourages us to examine the river to determine the cause of the fish’s illness. So, when we’re thinking about high-risk drinking, our coalition looks at the entire community.
To change the culture of high-risk drinking in Chapel Hill our Coalition is using a set of 22 comprehensive strategies. These strategies came from a year of researching national best practices and collecting local data to determine the issues we needed to address. Research tells us that no single program or intervention alone is sufficient to effectively reduce high-risk drinking in a college community. However, by addressing dangerous drinking with multiple tactics, we are better able to have a real impact in our community.
The strategies we are using include policy recommendations, educational initiatives, and an enhanced level of collaboration between organizations that allows us to communicate and act consistently with a unified message. The most significant coalition strategy already in place is the new Campus Alcohol Policy at UNC. It focuses on education, prevention and accountability, as well as treatment and recovery for those who need it. Other approaches include engaging in a comprehensive set of strategies that are jointly administered and enforced by the town and university to address off-campus parties and raising the awareness of alcohol-related impacts among parents of high-school students, parents of university students, and alumni of the University.
The Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition is committed to working collaboratively using a public health approach to reduce the negative impacts of high-risk drinking in our community. We know that alcohol misuse among college students is hardly a new issue. However, we believe that with this strong collaborative framework we can make a difference in our town.
For further information see the Campus & Community Coalition website: www.downtownchapelhill.com/coalition.
Dr. Colleen Bridger is the director of the Orange County Health Department, Winston B. Crisp is UNC’s vice chancellor for student affairs, Roger L. Stancil is Chapel Hill’s town manager and Elinor Landess is the director of the Campus & Community Coalition.