‘Safe’ Partying Reduces High-Risk Behavior at UC Davis

DAVIS, Calif.

Fewer UC Davis students are engaging in high-risk drinking and the community is raising expectations for responsible behavior related to alcohol and parties, according to a report on a major local effort.

The Safe Party Initiative at UC Davis began as part of a $6.9 million research project at 14 UC and California State University campuses to help combat high-risk drinking among college students in California.

Over the last four years, the UC Davis initiative showed students how to reduce alcohol-related risks at parties, fostered better relationships among students and their neighbors, and increased the visibility of law enforcement related to alcohol use.

“As a community, we have worked together and made a real difference in this problem,” said Michelle Famula, director of Student Health Services and a principal project investigator for the Davis campus.

About 1,000 UC Davis undergraduates were surveyed in 2003 and about 450 in 2007, and findings showed:

  • binge drinking (five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in a row) decreased from 31 percent in 2003 to 20 percent in 2007;
  • students who reported consuming alcohol in the past 30 days fell from 62 percent in 2003 to 55 percent in 2007;
  • drinking by underage students also declined from 55 percent to 47 percent; and the percentage of students drinking enough to be drunk/intoxicated in the fall quarter fell from 54 in 2003 to 44 in 2007.

“The effort sparked changes in student and community culture and in the relationships between the city of Davis, the campus and the community,” the report said.

Problem parties

In the spring of 2004, a series of rowdy off-campus parties heightened campus and community concerns and coincided with increasing recognition of the “culture of drinking” that had inundated campuses across the country, the report said.

About that time, UC Davis was randomly selected to be an intervention site for the Safer California Universities study, a collaboration of the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley and the 14 campuses with funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

UC Davis received $150,000 over five years to assist in the administration of the project on campus and an additional $45,000 to implement intervention strategies.

Guided by Student Health Services and its Health Education and Promotion program, the local initiative focused on off-campus parties. In a baseline survey in 2003, UC Davis students reported that roughly one-third of all their alcohol-related problems—including aggressive behavior, drinking and driving, and sex-related problems—occurred at off-campus parties held at private homes and apartments.

Strategic activities

Presentations and other outreach, including the Web site http://safeparty.ucdavis.edu, promoted safer partying for those students who chose to drink. Targeted messages were shared with incoming students, student-athletes, fraternity and sorority members, and student residents moving out into the community. An online program called e-Chug allows students to assess their alcohol use and compare their drinking habits with other UC Davis students.

The initiative targeted its activities to specific areas of the city based on prior police calls regarding noise and parties. It also intensified efforts at specific times of the year including the beginning of the school year and Picnic Day.

For example, a recent event leading up to this year’s Picnic Day on Saturday, April 18, featured activities to raise awareness about standard drink sizes and the effects of different types of alcohol. Also available were recipe cards for non-alcoholic beverages.

Over the life of the initiative, volunteers have gone to neighborhoods and apartment complexes to distribute thousands of packages with information to help students hold safer parties, understand state and local laws related to alcohol, and demonstrate consideration for neighbors.

Other giveaways—from wallet cards to beverage cups—highlighted signs of alcohol poisoning and how to help a friend; informed students about local enforcement activities and the cost of alcohol-related violations; and promoted the campus’s Tipsy Taxi transportation service for students who have been drinking.


Famula of Student Health Services and Davis Mayor Pro Tempore Don Saylor said the project was a true collaboration of the campus, the community and students.

One of the largest joint efforts was the launch of Davis Neighbors’ Night Out to help neighbors meet and build good relationships. A pilot project in 2005, the community event grew in fall 2008 to more than 100 neighborhood activities including barbecues, cookie exchanges and ice-cream socials. In 2008, the California Parks and Recreation Society honored the event with an achievement award.

Saylor, who is a founding member of the Davis Campus Community Alcohol Coalition, helped organize the pilot. “It started out as a response to the problem,” he said. “It ended up with something far more wonderful in community building than we ever could have imagined.”

Molly Sundstrom, a senior majoring in political science and vice chair of the City/UCD Student Liaison Commission, said the event and other efforts to foster community have helped students be better neighbors.

“When you know that next door are a 3-year-old child and a dad who has to get up at 6 in the morning to go to work,” she said, “you’re going to try to keep it down because you actually know who they are.”

Ordinances and enforcement

Through the Davis initiative, the UC Davis and city police departments also increased outreach and enforcement efforts. Police spoke to student groups and helped party hosts plan their events for increased safety. They also conducted patrols of parties and checkpoints to identify drivers under the influence of alcohol. Over three years, the initiative provided a total of $33,000 to the departments.

During the same period, the city of Davis extended an ordinance banning open containers of alcohol and added teeth to another one aimed at cleaning up unsightly residences.

Famula and Saylor agree that problem parties and high-risk drinking require ongoing diligence. “It still doesn’t guarantee someone won’t get hurt. It still doesn’t mean an end to binge drinking,” Famula said, adding that the university welcomes new students every year. “But it’s a big step in the right direction.”

About UC Davis: For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges—Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science—and advanced degrees from five professional schools—Education, Law, Management, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine.

Media contact(s):

Michelle Famula, Student Health Services, (530) 752-6559, msfamula@ucdavis.edu

Michelle Johnston, Health Education and Promotion, (530) 752-9651, mjohnston@ucdavis.edu

Julia Ann Easley, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-8248, jaeasley@ucdavis.edu


UC Davis April 14, 2009 press release

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