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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Alcohol Awareness Month: How IU is Changing the Drinking Culture

Indiana University, Bloomington is home to a diverse student body of over 40,000 students. With world-renowned programs, distinguished faculty, vibrant culture, and a beautiful campus, IU students have multiple reasons to boast. However, there is one thing you will hear some students declare proudly that doesn’t show up on a college brochure:  IU is a party school. According to the Princeton Review, Hoosiers were rated #16 out of the top 100 party schools in 2012. It’s no secret that drinking alcohol is viewed as a rite of passage by many college students, but just how concerned should we be with the drinking culture at IU?

alcohol awareness

AlcoholEdu is an online alcohol prevention program that targets college freshman in an attempt to reduce risky alcohol behavior. Data collected from first-year students midway through the 2012 fall semester revealed that IU students drinking activities rate higher than that of the national average. Approximately 50% of both male and female freshmen reported being drinkers, with 36% considered high-risk drinkers, compared to a national average of 25%. The most common drinking-related risky behaviors were taking shots and “pregaming” (drinking before going out to a party). The most common places to drink were in off-campus residences and at fraternity and sorority houses. While a majority of students did not experience negative consequences as a result of their drinking, certain behaviors are worth noting: 41% claimed to have blacked out ; 35% claimed to have missed class, performed poorly on an assignment, and/or fell behind in school; 14% claimed to have been taken advantage of sexually; and 10% reported driving after 5 or more drinks. According to the program results, 81% of students stated that AlcoholEdu helped them create a plan for responsible decisions around alcohol; however, many in Bloomington feel that more should be done to help curb the effects of drinking.

“Culture of Care” is a movement by members of the Bloomington and Indiana University communities to create a culture that promotes safety and well-being for all its members by holding one another accountable. The movement started in response to a series of occurrences and trends that were perceived as a threat to the physical, social, and emotional health of many individuals. One of these events was the disappearance of 20-year-old sophomore Lauren Spierer in June 2011, who went missing after leaving her shoes and ID at a bar and then leaving a friend’s apartment alone at 4:30 am. In January 2011, Brian Macken, 19, was visiting the Phi Sigma Kappa house when he was found unconscious, then taken to the hospital only to die 5 days later. The suspected cause of death was a drug overdose. These two incidents, along with an increasing amount of sexual assault reports, shed light on the fact that many issues that occur at IU are preventable. To promote prevention, Culture of Care created a new initiative called “Step Up! IU,” a 90-minute educational program that teaches students how to overcome the bystander effects to help spread a Culture of Care at IU. (Bystander effect occurs when individuals do not help a victim in an emergency situation when other people are present.) The interactive program provides students with knowledge, resources, and skills to intervene on the behalf of fellow students in need.  Using real-life scenarios, the program targets multiple issues such as hazing, harassment, sexual assault, discrimination, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Susan Miller, a first-year graduate student in the School of Public Health, has been with the program since its inception in September 2011 and is tasked with training the program facilitators, which consist of undergraduate students, graduate students, and IU staff/faculty. Susan explained that program participants are given tips on how to have a plan with friends before going out and partying so that everyone is on the same page on what to expect for the night. Facilitators emphasize knowing who to call if someone drinks too much. Participants also learn the signs of alcohol poisoning so that nobody will go unnoticed if they have had too much to drink. Based on the evidence that sexual assault cases frequently involve alcohol, the program has recently been tailored to address sexual assault issues. Participants discuss how to “hook up” safely, and what consenting to sex really means.

When asked if the program has received positive feedback, Susan replied, “We have gotten amazing response to the program. For each presentation, we pair an undergrad facilitator with a graduate or staff facilitator, so students are taught by people who are peers or who work for the university… The program is interactive, so we don’t just lecture at students; we involve them in conversations about issues at IU and within their organization and how the culture influences those issues. Students have been really responsive and have engaged in open, honest conversations.”

In addition to Step Up! IU, a new student organization has formed to avoid alcohol and drugs yet still have a good time. “College Lifestyles Excluding Alcohol and Recreational Drugs”, or CLEAR, is a group of students who get together and engage in fun and exciting activities-sober. Regardless of students’ reasons for choosing not to engage in consuming substances, this group is for anyone looking to have good, clean fun.

It is a reality that in college there are students who will inevitably drink, but as Susan Miller believes, drinking can be done safely. By connecting as many students, faculty, and community organizations as possible, IU is changing the drinking culture and the way we protect the Bloomington community.

For more information on Culture of Care, Step Up! IU and CLEAR, visit:

By Sarah Roberts, 4/4/2013