OctSOBERfest events to encourage safety

Associate Dean of Student Development and Diversity Jodi Thesing-Ritter took part in a demonstration about drunk driving last year.

A police officer made her take a sobriety test and arrested her on charges of drunk driving.

“I felt like I had to explain that it was a demo … It was eye opening,” she said.

Even though she felt embarrassed, Thesing-Ritter will be going to the same demo again this year as part of the week-long OctSOBERfest, part of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week.

“This week is not about telling students that alcohol is bad,” said sophomore Megan Vidmar, a student with the Student Wellness Advocacy Team (SWATeam). “It’s about remembering those who have been negatively affected by poor decisions and encouraging students to make healthy choices.”

After looking at the calendar of events for OctSOBERfest, sophomore Sarah Schmid felt the activities being offered on lower campus would not attract a lot of students.

“There’s nothing drawing it to you unless you’re walking by it,” she said.

Thesing-Ritter said the committee knows it will not attract everyone.

“We don’t overestimate the targeted (audience),” Thesing-Ritter said said. “We’re not foolish enough to expect that the event will change everyone overnight.”

While events started Sunday, Alcohol Awareness Week begins today.

“Like last year, Monday will be a serious day,” said Nina Albanses-Kotar, a psychologist in UW-Eau Claire’s Counseling Services and director of the newly created Center for Alcohol Studies and Education.

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to share stories about alcohol-related incidents during an open mic on the Campus Mall. Crosses also will be placed on the Mall representing people who died in Wisconsin in alcohol-related deaths last year. The video “Smashed,” followed by another open mic, will finish the day.

“I’m sure that everyone on this campus knows someone who has been affected by alcohol abuse,” said freshman Ashley Borman, a SWATeam member.

A drunk driving simulator in Davies Center will show students how it feels to be at the wheel of a vehicle when they are under the influence. Thesing-Ritter said 37 percent of Blugolds admitted to drinking and driving last year.

The Jail & Bail on Wednesday will be held around campus with several staff, faculty and students who have volunteered to be “arrested” by University Police officers. Those arrested must then raise bail to get of jail. The money raised will go to the SWATeam to support alcohol-related education on campus.

Other events, such as Virgin Bourbon Street and Casino Night, aim to provide healthy activities, Thesing-Ritter said.

“It was interesting, different dorms did different drinks,” said sophomore Jessica Stanley, who went last year. “Sutherland was giving out leis that said ‘I got lei-ed by Sutherland.’ ”

However, some feel the week won’t make much of a difference in underage drinking.

Sophomore Dale Damrow echoed Schmid and said, “Students aren’t going to go unless they get something for it.”

Thesing-Ritter acknowledges those views.

“It isn’t a cure-all,” she said of Alcohol Awareness Week. The university hopes to reach individuals, she said, who will then start to bring about environmental change.