Rare public forum has Miami putting student alcohol abuse in spotlight

Miami University officials threw another spotlight on student alcohol abuse Friday by holding a rare public forum with students and local police.

The high-profile public meeting at the school’s Shriver Center on its main Oxford campus drew more than 120 students, top university officials and Oxford City Police officials.

The event — called Building a Better Community by Confronting High-Risk Alcohol Consumption — comes in the wake of the death last month of a Miami freshman from alcohol poisoning and higher numbers of intoxicated students transported to local medical centers.

MORE: Miami freshman dies after night of excessive drinking

Michael Curme, associate vice president and dean of students at Miami, told students the university is working on a number of changes to strengthen the school’s policies and enforcement to curb illegal and excessive drinking.

Curme also struck an optimistic and defiant tone to rally student support, saying: “Miami students will not let this issue define them.”

Among the changes school officials are discussing is toughening restrictions on “outdoor house parties,” punishing underage students more who possess hard liquor as compared to beer, and using existing noise and littering laws to help curb off-campus house parties were drinking is occurring.

School officials are also looking into expanding the more than one dozen alcohol and drug abuse education and counseling programs available to students.

Part of the problem, said Curme, is perception brought on by geography.

Miami’s main campus — which enrolls 16,980 undergraduate students — is adjacent to downtown Oxford, and two of the busiest bars in the city are within a block of campus.

The school in recent weeks has also renewed publicizing its many programs to help students combat alcohol abuse — including a “Good Samaritan” policy that allows students who themselves may be impaired to report other students they believe are in danger. Students reporting on classmates can do so without suffering administrative repercussions or punishment for their own intoxication.

MORE: More student reporting part of jump in alcohol abuse numbers

Miami mirrors many other universities across the nation.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), researchers estimate that each year about 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.

Officials at the NIAAA also report about 696,000 students annually — between the ages of 18 and 24 — are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and that about 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Earlier this week the Butler County Coroner’s office ruled Miami University freshman Erica Buschick, 18, died of complications of acute ethanol toxicity. Buschick, of Gurnee, Ill., was studying special education. She was found dead on Jan. 20 by her roommate at Morris Hall on South Maple Street.

Miami junior Cameron Snyders, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, said he was encouraged by what he heard at the meeting.

“It was insightful … and definitely a different approach I have seen from the university thus far. We recognize this is an issue and it’s good to see that steps are being taken to address it and hopefully tangible actions will come of it.”

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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism “binge drinking” is connected to many college alcohol problems.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours. Drinking this way can pose serious health and safety risks, including car crashes, drunk-driving arrests, sexual assaults, and injuries. Over the long term, frequent binge drinking can damage the liver and other organs.

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