Dartmouth Addresses Drinking

Boston — During the 2010-11 academic year, 80 Dartmouth College students registered a blood alcohol content greater than .25 — more than three times the legal limit in New Hampshire — and required medical treatment.

That number dropped to 31 students this 2012-13 academic year.

Campus officials can’t determine specific causality , but are crediting at least part of this decline in medical emergencies to an array of intervention tools that stemmed from Dartmouth’s involvement in the National College Health Improvement Program (NCHIP).

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll continue to see progress,” Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said.

Created two years ago by former Dartmouth President Jim Kim, currently president of the World Bank, NCHIP is a collaborative network of colleges and universities working to reduce high-risk drinking on their respective campuses.

The first round of participants — a sampling of 32 schools nationwide — convened in Boston this week for a three-day summit. Aurora Matzkin, director of health promotion and student wellness at Dartmouth, said each participating school assembled a team of at least five campus representatives two years ago, but many teams number nearly a dozen now. Matzkin, Dartmouth’s team leader, works with representatives from drug and alcohol counseling, the Athletic Department, the Greek system and the communications office to foster ideas to help the campus combat binge drinking.

Anderson acknowledged that Dartmouth’s reputation for hard-partying fraternities has in some ways contributed to student alcohol abuse, but he emphasized that a more prevalent issue is an activity called “pre-gaming,” which includes quickly consuming large amounts of alcohol — often in the residence halls — before heading out to parties elsewhere, such as at fraternities or sororities. To crack down on this practice, Dartmouth has strived for a more consistent enforcement of alcohol violations.

When asked about what tactics Dartmouth has explored to tackle binge-drinking at fraternities and sororities, Matzkin and Anderson didn’t provide specifics for NCHIP inspired programs, but Matzkin did say it was an issue they had discussed frequently. She mentioned an ordinance that student leaders in the Greek system developed, which, starting next fall, will ban Dartmouth frats and sororities from hosting freshmen at their parties until after homecoming weekend.

“We recognize that students can’t do all of this on their own,” Matzkin said. “But they need to be part of the solution.”

Participation at NCHIP has stemmed the development of several alcohol abuse prevention efforts at Dartmouth, Matzkin said, including both proactive and reactive measures.

Using what they call a “Plan-Do-Study-Act” methodology, the participating schools developed ideas and then conducted trial runs to test their effectiveness.

A week after their first NCHIP meeting in June 2011, the Dartmouth team implemented a preventative program that required physicians at the college infirmary to ask each student they treated a question about their drinking habits. In September 2011, Dartmouth adopted an initiative called BASICS, which stands for the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students. It was developed by the University of Washington as an alternative counseling program to talk about both the student’s risky drinking behavior and their goals and ambitions . All varsity Dartmouth athletes are required to go through this program and any student who has an “alcohol incident” on campus can opt for the program in place of facing any campus judicial consequences. Students who are cited for an alcohol violation are invited to the BASICS program within one business day and are expected to complete within two weeks a series of online assessments and an interview with a counselor in the Dean of the College division.

Anderson said the college’s problem is not unique, and that Kim recognized two years ago the great task many campuses faced in curbing binge-drinking. “He (Kim) wanted Dartmouth to be a leader.”

Anderson said Kim drew experience from his “former life” in the medical world to develop NCHIP, which uses a “learning collaborative” model to bring “great minds together to tackle a very difficult problem.” Kim used the model while working to treat AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and tuberculosis in Peru.

For two years, the first group of NCHIP colleges and universities brainstormed solutions collectively, gathering for learning sessions every six months and participating in monthly conference calls. Each learning session had a different topic and was held in a different city; they focused on the individual at a session on Dartmouth’s campus in June 2011, environmental influences in January 2012 in Austin, Texas and building an effective system to control binge drinking in July 2012 in Washington, D.C.

The first day and part of the second day of this week’s Boston conference marked what Anderson described as “the end of the road for this particular incarnation of the collaborative,” a time for the first group of NCHIP colleges and universities to analyze their two-year findings. Ten of the original 32 NCHIP collaborators will continue with the program and the others will continue to network independently. A handful of new colleges and universities will join the remaining 10 to form a second NCHIP class.

“We feel like we’ve made progress but we feel like we still have a lot of work to do,” Anderson said.

Katie Mettler can be reached at kmettler@vnews.com or 603-727-3234.