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Are Haverford Students Drinking Less?

Over the past few years, transportations at Haverford have been on a slight downward trend. Transportations, where students are taken in an ambulance to the emergency room due to either consuming too much alcohol or drugs, are distinct from hospitalizations, which means that a student has been admitted into the hospital.

“Typically when a student goes to the emergency room they are only observed—not a lot happens I would say more times than not,” said Joye Shrager, Haverford’s Substance Abuse Educator.  “Sometimes they are put on an IV; if they are nauseous and throwing up they may give them some medication for that. And once they are with it, they are released. If someone is admitted into the hospital then it is a whole other level of severity.”

As students may remember from the frequently-cited statistic during Customs, no Haverford student has been hospitalized for eight years. However, students are transported fairly frequently.

“Basically the way it works is every Friday and Saturday we have a on-call EMT down by the apartments,” said Brian Murray, head of Haverford’s day-to-day security operations. “We get a call from a student saying ‘we think a student has had too much to drink’ so then we go over. If [the EMT] feels the student is in such a condition where they need to go to the hospital, we call the ambulance.” Around 60% of Campus Safety calls relating to alcohol will wind up with transportations.

“’Lately there has been a subtle reduction in the calls here at Haverford. This would normally have us a bit nervous,” Tom King, Executive Director of BiCo Campus Safety said. King said that he believes that if calls go down, it is typically not a sign that students are drinking less—it just means there is less trust in campus safety. For instance, a few years ago, Campus Safety calls dramatically dropped at Bryn Mawr. But, with some investigation, King discovered that the reason was a rumor that Campus Safety would call for transportation in all instances.

This year, he said, “students are drinking less,” which he attributed to a number of factors.

The overall number of calls to Haverford’s campus safety has declined over the past school years.
Data obtained from Haverford Campus Safety.

“I think students are drinking less for a whole lot of reasons,  it is sort of societal and it’s also a national trend, but probably more to the point, students are smoking more [marijuana] and drinking less,” he said “That and there are less borderline admissions—students aren’t drinking as much when they drink—and there aren’t as many parties. All these things, and again it is mostly anecdotal, lead us to believe there has actually been a decrease, well we know the numbers, in calls which obviously results in fewer transportations and fewer citations.”

King added that he believes that Haverford’s approach to tackling campus drinking is the safest.

“We do a lot of reading of after action reports at places that have so called “zero tolerance.” [At these schools] people, when they go to the hospital, they won’t wake up the next day: people die. It happens disturbingly frequently and in almost every case there were one or more students that could have called for help but didn’t because they didn’t want to get in trouble, or didn’t want to get the person drinking in trouble,” he said.

However, King wants to stress that Haverford’s alcohol policy is not “open,” and if you overdrink, there are consequences. When King first started at Haverford, he created a memorandum with the local police that no one would get cited for alcohol. Yet, the college quickly realizing that approach was not working: students started going to the hospital with a high degree of frequency and were getting hospitalized—all while openly advertising to their friends that you could drink as much as you wanted at Haverford without getting in trouble. After meeting with deans and the police department, it was decided to put an end to the memorandum.

Today, if students are transported they will likely (but not in all cases) receive a non-traffic summary citation. The citation will not be on any permanent records or entail a big fine. It typically consists of doing community service. Furthermore, whether or not a student is transported, in the case of a campus safety call they will meet with their dean and Joye Shrager.

“I was really worried going into meet with Joye, obviously it’s a sensitive topic and I was worried she would jump right into it. But she got to know me and provided helpful suggestions. She’s really knowledgeable,” says one anonymous student who was sent to meet with Shrager after a transportation.

Shranger echoed that her job mostly involved education on these issues.

“My job is education mostly,” Shrager said.  “I speak with the student and we talk about what happened and we talk about how not to have something like that happen again. My goal is to educate people and help students, if they choose to drink, to do it in a way that is healthy.”  

Shrager’s services are completely free and confidential to all. “I also have students reach out to me who feel that they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or other drugs or they aren’t sure if they have a problem or they want to cut back on their drinking and how do I go about doing that in this setting. [Finally] I also work with CPs and friends who come in and say ‘I’m really concerned about a friend’  or just want to ask ‘should I be concerned? should I say something?’ I am a resource for any student here even if it is not about themselves.”

Right now, Haverford’s alcohol policy appears to work. The recidivism rate of students transported is very low, and the decreasing trend looks promising. But, its success is the result of hard work. “We pay very close attention to trends and it is a very difficult balance: the trust in students and student self governance along with the law and consequences. It seems to be working, but we don’t take it for granted. We are constantly working on it. [Right now] we are working on a student EMS program to help make calls on transportations,” King said.

JSAAPP’s newly elected Co-Heads Drew Evans ‘19 and Tai Nguyen echoed King’s sentiment about the continuous work that goes into building an effective alcohol policy. In a joint statement received through email, they said: ”After meeting with the administration we are pleased to hear that alcohol appears to be less of an issue this year than it has been in the past, but we don’t want to get complacent. [We] intend on pushing some of the initiatives that have been in the works such as a formal training for party hosts and to improve school-wide knowledge about the alcohol policy.”