Residence alcohol ban enhances Orientation Week experience, participation
Early indications are that an alcohol ban in residence during Orientation Week may have helped change student attitudes and create more opportunities for students to get to know their classmates without having to deal with any pressure to drink.
Ann Tierney, Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Student Affairs, says the word from residence staff and dons is that students were aware of the policy when they arrived and most complied. More than 90 per cent of first-years are under 19.
“We’re hearing that dry residences put everyone on equal footing in terms of not facing pressure to drink,” she says. “We also noted increased participation in night-time organized activities like the move-in rally and games on Tindall Field, which suggests more students were engaged in dry events. The residence common rooms were also fuller than usual, with students just hanging out together, talking and watching TV.”
Ms Tierney says there were some alcohol-related violations in residence and that is not a surprise.
“We were not expecting to eliminate drinking in residence during the week – nor did we see the ban as a one-off strategy. The policy is one step that supports a culture where underage drinking is less pervasive. Best practices suggest that when you reduce access to alcohol, you reduce risk and harm.”
The week-long ban is common at many Canadian universities and it builds on the work of the university’s Alcohol Working Group. The group is leading a multi-pronged approach to address alcohol-related harm that includes education, prevention, health promotion, harm reduction and enforcement.
“Adjusting to university can be overwhelming for some people,” says Arig Girgrah, Assistant Dean, Student Affairs. “They may be living away from home for the first time and worried about how they’re going to do in class and making new friends. New students can be particularly vulnerable to peer pressure to misuse alcohol or engage other risky behaviours so they fit in.”
Reports from the annual Main Council Residence Dance and carnival are also encouraging. More than 2,500 students attended but unlike in previous years, no one needed first aid, there were no arrests and no one was taken to the on-site Campus Observation Room (COR).
“Only three students were denied entry because they were obviously intoxicated,” says Ms Tierney. “Last year, more than a dozen students were turned away.”
Incident reports are being gathered and Student Affairs will review them and make a decision about reinstating the ban for Orientation Week 2012. “So far, there is no indication that we should not continue it,” says Ms Girgrah. “With ongoing implementation, over time, we hope we can make incremental cultural shifts that will enhance student safety and wellness.”