The battle of the binge
By Maddie Rogers My GPA was a 2.1 in my first semester at college. I remember the knowing looks my parents gave me after seeing my transcript.
"Partied a bit too hard last semester, did you?" they asked.
My 'rents still presume my first semester was a booze-soaked blur of drinking and class-skipping. Their impressions are in line with the prevailing notion of what social life in college is: basically, constant, prolific alcohol abuse.
"There's this idea that in college, you don't just drink, you drink to get extremely intoxicated," says public safety Lt. Steve Linhart, coordinator of alcohol awareness activities at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Granted, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that 40 percent of college students binge drink at least once a month.
But a University of Michigan survey indicates that 35 percent of students are non-drinkers, more than ever before. And toward the middle of the spectrum, there are students who drink responsibly. It's in these two groups that law enforcement, school faculty and parents would like to keep students, and dialogue is the top tool in their arsenal.
"When you talk to students in a non-threatening environment about drinking, they are more likely to respond positively," explains Linhart.
As UCCS has become more of a residential school, its alcohol awareness programs have beefed up in an effort to encourage safety on campus. THINK, the school's drug and alcohol awareness committee, hosts six or seven events a year, ranging from "mocktail" parties to demonstrations featuring actual "beer goggles."
At Colorado College, residential programming incorporates alcohol awareness classes and events, while counseling services offer limited short-term treatment to students who are addicts.
"We try to encourage students to come in before they have a full-blown problem ... proactive prevention," says Bill Dove, a psychologist at the counseling center.
CC's counseling services are similar to services also offered at UCCS and Colorado State University-Pueblo. And actually, with increasing enrollment at CSU-Pueblo, the Student Health Center plans to hire an official coordinator of alcohol and drug education programs before the start of this fall's semester, according to Fred Stultz, the director of student counseling services.
In addition to the resources offered at individual schools, Alcoholics Anonymous of the Colorado Springs Area and Pikes Peak Al-Anon/Alateen offer free support meetings for those seeking off-campus dialogue. (See coloradospringsaa.org and al-anon-co.org for schedules.)
As for proof of the power of dialogue, this tidbit might be of interest: During my terrible first semester, I didn't touch a drop of alcohol. I studied little and goofed off a lot, but memories of drunken relatives and, indeed, pre-college conversation with my parents prevented me from engaging in and explaining my GPA away with stereotypical collegiate behavior.
Know the risks and options
By Mike Alberti College is about a lot of things: learning, having fun, meeting people, getting as far away from your parents as you can. But first and foremost, it's about experimenting. Most everyone will try things they've never tried before, and in general, this is positive and healthy.
Of course, there are risks. We've all heard the statistics about sexual assault and seen the "1-in-4" T-shirts. We all know that it's a problem on campuses, and this article isn't meant to scare you into staying in your room alone.
Go out, meet people, have fun, try things. Just be smart about it. Learn the risks, know your boundaries, and if your gut tells you something's not right, then trust it.
Watch yourself ...
According to Heather Horton, sexual assault response coordinator at Colorado College, the resources available to students have grown dramatically in the last decade. Most colleges and universities have positions like Horton's, and most try to raise awareness about risk factors and resources, she says.
"First-year students, however, often still have this 'nothing bad will happen to me' attitude," says Horton. "It's also hard because they don't know each other yet, don't know who's a good person to go out with, who's a good person to trust."
Freshmen, and college students in general, usually fall in the 16-to-24-year-old age range, for which risk is highest. Add to that an atmosphere in which alcohol flows freely it's involved in an estimated 50 percent of sexual assaults and it's clear that college can be a precarious time.
To reduce your chances of finding yourself in a bad situation, Steve Linhart, deputy chief of police administration at UCCS and a Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) instructor, also brings up the "R" word.
"Take advantage of your resources," he says. "Take a self-defense class. In the event of a woman being attacked, a RAD class can provide her with some options, ranging from verbal resistance to physically fighting someone off."
(UCCS offers a basic RAD class and an advanced class, and both are open to the community. For more information, contact the UCCS Department of Public Safety at 262-3111.)
Linhart adds, "Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware if you're in a supermarket parking lot at 2 a.m.
"Also, be aware of who your friends are. You're meeting people who you know very little about, so don't take unnecessary chances."
... and one another
According to Horton, 8 in 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. So when getting to know someone, it's good to stay alert.
"One warning sign is boundary testing," says Horton. "A red flag should go up if someone tries to force a drink on you after you say no, or pushes your physical boundaries and tries to be in your space."
Also, there are some simple things to look for at parties. Skewed gender ratios, music so loud that you can't have a conversation, filthy women's bathrooms and gender segregation indicate potentially dangerous situations.
"I always encourage the buddy system for parties," says Horton. "Go to parties with a friend and commit to coming home with that same friend. Look out for one another while you're out."
Bystander intervention is important as well. Examples of this can range from stepping in if you see somebody trying to get someone else drunk to speaking out against rape-supportive behavior, like sexist language.
"It's the community that's responsible for community safety," says Horton.
Finally, Horton and Linhart agree on one very important point: Whether it's you or your friend who is in a potentially dangerous situation, trust your gut.
"Often, after an assault, we hear, 'I had this feeling that something was off, but I doubted myself,'" says Linhart. "Those gut feelings are usually right. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't."
And if something does happen, it's also important to know where to go. On p. 24 is a list of resources on campus and in the community.
Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC): 227-8101, 660-8915 (cell)
Students Organized for Sexual Safety (SOSS): 236-0526
Boettcher Counseling Center: 389-6384
College Chaplain: 389-6638
Colorado State University-Pueblo
Student Counseling Center: 719/549-2479
Student Health Services: 719/549-2830
Pikes Peak Community College
Student Crisis Counseling Office: 502-4782
Campus Police Department: 502-2900, 502-2911 (emergency)
United States Air Force Academy
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team: 333-7272
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
University Counseling Center: 262-3265
Student Health Center: 262-4444
Public Safety: 262-3111
Crime Prevention: 262-3444
Offers comprehensive services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.
633-1462, 633-3819 (24-hour crisis line), tessacs.org
Colorado Anti-Violence Program
A resource for the GLBT community.
303/852-5094, 888/557-4441, coavp.org
Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault
A coalition of resources for the state of Colorado.
Memorial Hospital: 365-5000
Penrose Community Hospital: 776-5111