By Robin Hattersley Gray · November 1, 2011
In the early nineties, the University of Rhode Island (URI) had one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the United States, and the school was experiencing the negative consequences of this type of behavior. It was plagued with drunk driving injuries and deaths, sexual assaults, injuries related to alcohol and drug use, vandalism, hazing, suicides and a high dropout rate. In 1993 and 1994, URI was named the No. 1 party school in the nation. The problem was so bad, in fact, that the institution had the unflattering nickname “U R High.”
Things had to change, and URI President Emeritus Dr. Robert Carothers spearheaded efforts to reform the culture of his institution. He outlined URI’s successful strategy at Security On Campus’ Proceeding in Partnership: The Future of Campus Safety, which took place Sept. 29 at Lehigh University.
“What I discovered was that our [academic] work was being undermined by both the reality of the alcohol abuse around campus and the external perception of ‘U R High,’” he told attendees. “We found that there were deep and broad roots of alcohol [abuse] throughout the campus community.”
Policies Support School’s Mission and Vision
Carothers decided to approach the problem as an academic issue so that faculty could understand how their work was being negatively affected. He and other officials developed new policies that were tied to URI’s mission and vision. Staff and students were trained so they would buy into the changes.
One of the first, and most challenging, steps was keeping alcohol from being served at any event on campus.
“One of the toughest things we did was ban alcohol from homecoming,” says Carothers. “That resulted in a much smaller event. [Prior to the ban] every year we were sending 50-60 kids to the emergency room due to alcohol poisoning. Now homecoming has come back, but it is more of a family event.”
Fraternities, athletes and summer home residents living off campus were targeted, and freshmen received education on drug abuse, high-risk drinking and sexual assault.
“If you are coming here to have a good time and abuse drugs and alcohol, please do us all a favor: go somewhere else,” Carothers and other URI officials told freshmen during their orientations. “We don’t want you here. You won’t be happy.”
For those with drug and alcohol problems, support mechanisms were developed, including screening, interventions, support groups and referrals to off-campus professionals. A three-strikes enforcement policy was also created. The consequences of a first violation were a fine and alcohol education. For the second violation, a larger fine and probation. For the third, suspension.