Alcohol focus of group

When Interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson opened the first meeting of the The Bridge: Campus-Community Coalition on Alcohol Issues in Eau Claire, she said the coalition not only will have to make policies and preach – something she’d like to see less of – but also have patience.

“It’s really going to require a multi-faceted approach.”
Vicki Lord Larson
Chancellor, on The Bridge: Campus Community Coalition on Alcohol Issues in Eau Claire

“It’s really going to require a multi-faceted approach,” she said, of what she referred to at the meeting as a comprehensive effort to change the attitude about alcohol use and abuse. The three P’s of policies, preach and patience are something the coalition has created as a theme for the cause.

Nina Albanese-Kotar, director of UW-Eau Claire’s Center for Alcohol Studies and Education and a UW System Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse coordinator said she would add people as a fourth “P,” stating everyone should have a chance to be a part of the coalition.

Albanese-Kotar said more than 100 people were invited to Monday’s meeting in room 160 of Haas Fine Arts Center. The meeting drew an “astounding” turnout of about half of those invited, she said.

“It really shows people are concerned,” she said.

Among attendants present at the first meeting were area physicians, city and university police, Eau Claire professors and administration, representatives from the Eau Claire Area School District, representatives from the alcohol industry and landlords.

“It’s the whole idea of bringing together stakeholders in a community,” Albanese-Kotar said of the coalition, which she said won’t focus just on policy and enforcement, but also on community norms, access to and the availability of alcohol and media messages.

“It’s not about cracking down on students,” she said. “It’s not about creating a police state. It’s about creating a community we all want to live in.”

Albanese-Kotar added the coalition strives to change the drinking culture in Eau Claire. At the meeting, Larson brought up the drinking culture in Wisconsin, which she said has the highest binge drinking level among 40 states.

During her introduction, she cited the results of the System Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Committee survey administered to undergraduate students last spring.

The survey revealed 78 percent of the approximately 12,000 randomly-selected undergraduate students surveyed had drank within the past 30 days. Fifty-nine percent of students reported engaging in binge drinking, according to a 2005 System AODA Assessment and Prevention Initiatives report.

“We’re definitely right there,” Albanese-Kotar said. “The data definitely shows the need for this.”

Larson agreed the data indicates a problem.

“Among college students, it’s a very serious problem,” Larson said of binge drinking. “This is not an area we’d like (to continue to) come up number one.”

Ralph Hudson, a retired physician who said he has worked with similar programs in the past, pointed out to attendents binge drinking is not good for anybody – students or non-students alike. The term, he said, has a negative connotation and seems to tell students, “You’re bad,” which creates an “us against them” complex, something he would like to see this coalition avoid.

Sophomore Megan Vidmar was invited to voice her opinions at the meeting because of her involvement with planning the National Alcohol Awareness Week and with the Student Wellness and Advocacy Team on campus. She said she attended so she can contribute a student opinion.

At the meeting, Vidmar said of the recent increase in law enforcement, “We need more clarification. Students are confused and don’t know the purpose.”

She said in an interview Tuesday night she does think there’s an “us against them” feel right now.

“I feel like that’s what it is,” she said, “and I’d like to clarify that more.”

Albanese-Kotar said the coalition is not targeting students, who she said can contact her if they’d like to join the coalition and be added to the mailing list.

“We do recognize we do have a shared responsibility,” she said. “We can’t blame the alcohol industry. We can’t blame the police officers. We can’t blame the students. We’re all in this together.”