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Opinion-Gary Miller: Universities Should Address ‘High-Risk Drinking’ By Students

By Gary Miller, posted May 9, 2014
(Gary Miller)
A recent media article called into question UNCW’s student conduct process and specifically an issue regarding alcohol use by students.
High-risk drinking by students is something that university leaders are confronting nationwide. It impedes campus security efforts as well as student mental and physical health, and, ultimately, it has a negative impact on student success. Importantly, the culture of high-risk drinking by college students contributes to risky behaviors that lead to serious personal injuries, assaults, and even fatalities. Striking statistics illustrate this point. Each year in our country, approximately 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 become unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol, and approximately 1,825 students in the same age range die as a result of alcohol-related injuries. Additionally, each year approximately 696,000 students in the same age range are assaulted by a student who has been drinking, and approximately 97,000 students of this age are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault. Nationally, 95% of the violent crimes and 90% of sexual assaults that occur in college communities involve the use of alcohol by one or both parties involved.* 
At many institutions, the campus community may treat heavy drinking as a “rite of passage.” To students, this sends an unhealthy message that society endorses and expects them to engage in high-risk drinking as a typical part of the college experience. These messages reinforce a myth among students that high-risk drinking is the norm, and it is not.    
In recent years, a number of students at UNC campuses have died due to alcohol-related incidents. Not only do these incidents affect the safety of our students, but they also negatively affect retention and the greater academic mission of the university. Not insignificantly, they also constitute a major risk management issue for the institution.
As an undergrad, I joined a member of a Greek organization, and I remain a firm supporter of the role of Greek organizations on college campuses. However, belonging to an organization doesn’t supersede one’s obligation to behave responsibly and to adhere to the rules of the university and the community. I am firmly committed to the safety and security of our students, and our faculty and staff have been entrusted to protect that safety. That remains our ultimate obligation as we educate and support our students throughout their journey of learning.

Gary L. Miller is chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

*College Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, available here.

Editor's note: Miller's opinion column references a recent media report. An article in the Friday edition of the StarNews discussed the chancellor and UNCW's student conduct process.

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