9 No. 2
Out of Control
Alcohol abuse and academic life at Emory
Use and Abuse
Select Recommendations from the President's Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs
"Faculty members generally are more aware of what’s going on with students than the rest of us are. They see the impact more closely in terms of class absences, emotional trauma because of assault, and grades suffering."
"In Italy someone who is out of control because of alcohol is considered the lowest of the low as far as bad public behavior is concerned. Drunkenness is disgusting. American youth are always associated with drunken behavior, and they go from drunken to destructive."
An Image of Ethics
The response of the human brain to moral conflict
Neuroethics and Moral Progress
Toward an understanding of ethics decisions
Emory Indicators: Research impact on neuroscience
Academic Exchange: Can you sum up a few findings from the report?
Michael Huey: From a series of six studies done over four years about student alcohol and drug use at Emory, we knew that the Emory data closely mirrored national data. We’d like to think that wouldn’t be true, but it’s completely true. Emory students participate in high-risk drinking the same as other college students do, and they use marijuana and take prescription drugs in a nonprescription setting at the same frequency as other college students. As a physician I knew it was going on because I see individual patients and the consequences of alcohol-related injuries, illnesses, or unwanted sexual contact that can occur when one or both people are intoxicated. Another thing we knew from the data is something happens to freshman. If you take this very elite group of precollege students, they participate in high-risk drinking less often than their age- and sex-matched peers nationally. However, when they go to college, and specifically Emory, and you survey them eight to ten weeks into the first semester, the number nearly doubles.
AE: Why has the problem become so serious?
MH: A lot things are more difficult for students in 2006 than they were in 1976. It’s harder for young people to communicate with each other. All of the newer ways of extended communications, such as cell phones, instant messaging, and the Internet, have actually created more isolation. Young people aren’t as comfortable expressing feelings in person and talking with each other. So more than ever, alcohol is used to get comfortable in social settings. Students also feel that they need to party hard because they have to work so hard and have very little time to relax. They take this little tiny part of their lives and cram in all the socialization and relaxation that they can, and when you do that you can make bad decisions about alcohol and drugs. That’s a superficial evaluation of what’s different, but it’s a part of things. Faculty members generally are more aware of what’s going on with students than the rest of us are. They see the impact more closely in terms of class absences, emotional trauma because of assault, and grades suffering. Some of them are really good at taking on the challenge of trying to help individual students and getting them assistance; others aren’t as comfortable assuming that role.
AE: What’s the solution?
MH: A lot of people say it isn’t solvable, but we weren’t ready to accept that. The task force tried to think of as many ways as we could to get a handle on how to make things better at Emory. We think it comes down to a true need to change the underlying culture at Emory. Do we want to be a place where it isn’t OK to be grotesquely, publicly drunk, and it isn’t OK to do damaging, dangerous, or illegal things and say it’s just because I was drunk? But unless there is a basic change in how we view ourselves as a community—unless there’s some moral and ethical construct that we can all buy into—the other task force recommendations won’t be successful: the increased enforcement, the prevention and treatment efforts, and policy creation. All those things will help, but nothing will ever make this a better, safer place that uses drugs and alcohol appropriately unless we as a community truly want it to be different. I feel it has to start at day one of recruitment. We have to say, and mean it, what kind of place Emory is: that it’s not a dry campus, but that this is what we believe in and how we treat each other and how we choose to use substances. Emory has these sets of rules and these sets of consequences. We let them know that this isn’t the kind of place you should go to college if you want a place that is about binge drinking and is in the top ten of The Princeton Review’s list of party schools. Don’t come here, because we’re not that place. We don’t want to be that place, and we won’t be that place again. Then consistently say that to parents during recruitment and again at orientation, and get upper-class students to model it to new students. Our data says that the majority of Emory students either drink responsibly or don’t drink at all and don’t use illegal drugs. Why can’t the majority of people pull us to a better place? It doesn’t have to stay the way it is.