Student initiatives make spring break safe and constructive

Spring Break often conjures up an image of college students partying their way down the beach, drink in hand. This year, students at both Emory and Oxford colleges chose to spend spring break pursuing other alternatives.

When students left Oxford for spring break last week, they were handed a care packet for the holiday -- designed to remind them how to enjoy their break without abusing alcohol or drugs. The packets followed a week of programming on safety and alcohol education called Safe Spring Break. Coordinated by SHARK (Students Handling Alcohol Responsibly on Kampus), Safe Spring Break has received two straight years of national honors, including recognition by BACCHUS, (Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students), a national group committed to educating college students about the dangers of alcohol abuse, as the most outstanding of more than 300 submissions nationwide.

SHARK and PAL (Peer Assistant Leaders) are two student-run programs at Oxford that deal with the prevention of alcohol and other drug abuse. Both organizations educate and inform students about the dangers of alcohol and drug use and suggest viable alternatives. During the annual National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week (NCAAW) in October, Oxford was named one of the top 10 programs nationwide, a distinction it has won for the past three years. SHARK organizes non-alcohol events and activities, such as fitness programs and study breaks, and educates Oxford students both in the classroom and through campus events on the dangers of alcohol. PALs are sophomores who plan and run freshman orientation, co-lead a freshman seminar course and are responsible for selecting and developing an educational presentation that is given once or twice during the academic year.

Research on the effectiveness of such activities indicates decreasing rates of alcohol consumption among Oxford students between 1992 and 1994. Overall statistics showed a 7.5 percent decrease in alcohol use at Oxford compared to a national drop of 2.4 percent at other colleges with alcohol and drug education programs.

This drop gives hope to Lynn Talbot, an Emory College junior who attended Oxford last year and whose parents were killed in drunk driving accidents. Talbot delivers presentations to college students in the belief that her story will curb drunk driving among students.

In addition to Oxford's Safe Spring Break program, students from both Emory and Oxford this year continued the tradition of Alternative Spring Break, combining service with learning. More than two dozen students spent March 10-16 helping communities in the Southeast. Fourteen students, in conjunction with the Rural Mission Agency, signed up to renovate and repair several residences on John's Island, located off the coast of Charleston, S.C. According to Alternative Spring Break coordinator Lanchi Nguyen, students worked on repairs and construction, but also took time to learn about the Gullah culture of the sea islands.

Twelve other students worked with the Anthony House, a shelter for the homeless and abuse victims, in building an Adult Learning/Literacy Center in Zellwood, Florida. Students also assisted by tutoring for an after-school program, which recently lost funding.

According to Volunteer Emory Student Coordinator Joe Kable, the purpose of Alternative Spring Break is threefold. "We're providing services to communities that need them, it's an educational experience for Emory students, and it's spring break -- we couldn't do this program unless it was fun."

-- Danielle Service

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