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
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Neuroethics and Moral Progress
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Emory Indicators: Research impact on neuroscience
Academic Exchange: What’s your approach to student alcohol use during your study abroad program?
Judy Raggi-Moore: You can either pretend you don’t see it, turn the other way, and let them be the ugly American that they are too young to realize they are being, or you can step in and teach them to respect the culture they’re in. Most cultures consider drunken behavior absolutely inexcusable and disgusting. 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. American youth are always associated with drunken behavior, and they go from drunken to destructive.
AE: How has the extent of the problem changed?
JRM: I’ve always had a drunk or two, but the first time I realized that we were in a completely different ballpark was a few years ago when a student life official accompanying us went over to a particularly loud table of my students in a beautiful restaurant. There was more than an entire bottle of wine for each student. I sanctioned them, and they were furious. They weren’t drunk, just a little loud, and they couldn’t understand what the big deal was. To them, a bottle and a half was normal, even minimal. That’s when it started registering with me that they have a very high tolerance for alcohol. These kids were perfectly in control with 750 milliliters consumed at the dinner table alone, and they’d already had pre-dinner drinks and were merrily going to go off to post-dinner drinking. How much can this generation hold? How do you shoot your level that high without a consistent amount of practice? Anyone who denies this is happening in the U.S. is horribly and willfully blind.
AE: Have you modified your program to deal with alcohol use?
JRM: When I started twenty years ago, I naively thought this wasn’t going to happen. Every summer there’s been something. I started making the program unusually rigorous as far as the intensity of the academics. I lengthened the workdays and reduced weekends to one day, then eliminated unstructured time entirely. They’re engaged from 6:30 a.m. until 11:00 at night. I never say they can’t drink. Please drink; have wine or beer at meals. I’m saying, Do it responsibly. Do it as an Italian would do it, because you’re in my country. We would never have a meal without serving wine, but we would never lose control, it’s always within a social context that makes sense.
AE: Do you view the problem on campus differently?
JRM: Kids feel that unless they’re drunk there’s no fun. It comes down to that. So many of them have said to me, “Just try and have a party where there’s no alcohol. No one will come.” The tragedy of alcohol consumption among youth here is the fierce sense of isolation, inadequacy, and insecurity, which is totally opposite of what [Italians] associate alcohol with, which is family, friends, food, and happy times. We would never think to drink a glass of wine outside of meal or alone—never. But here you drink a lot alone before, so when you get out into the public scene you can be uninhibited. A healthy social gathering can be conducted with or without the wine. You’re not a social pariah in Italy for not drinking. If you sit at dinner table and you’re offered wine and say, “no, I don’t drink,” no one would say anything. Try that here. It takes an amazing amount of willpower. Those of our students who have that fortitude and backbone are often pushed aside, because that’s just not cool. We put our kids in situations where they have to be titans to stand up. At seventeen and eighteen, going against social norms is so hard, but that’s the
scenario we create.
I’ve looked to the institution for solutions, and I don’t see them. Sometimes the institution works against you. I could look the other way. I could just not do the summer programs, do the way other American study abroad programs do and allow students to be the ugly American. But I couldn’t live with myself. And I’m an Italian who has come to learn who the Americans really are and to love this country. I’m the one who was watching you from the other side saying, “Oh, my God, there’s another American—run.” It was a major revelation to discover who Americans really are. It’s not the image I got from thirty years of watching you come through my country.