Recent alum appointed to alcohol education post

For students who find themselves three beers in before noon at tomorrow’s tailgate, the Yale College Dean’s Office will provide lifesaving water bottles — thanks, in part, to Ben Flores ’10.

Following an uptick in alcohol incidents on campus last year, the Dean’s Office is making an effort to curtail problems resulting from student drinking. To help lead these initiatives, the University hired Flores as its first Student Affairs fellow. The water bottles — organized in tandem with the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority — are one of his first projects.

Flores’ new post, which he assumed over the summer, is the culmination of years of thought and debate about such a position, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said.

Although alcohol-related offenses rose 27 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the 2009 Campus Safety Report released Wednesday, both Flores and Gentry said their efforts are not connected to any perceived rise in alcohol abuse. Rather, Gentry has been working on the program since he came to the University four years ago, he said. At that time, he visited Harvard and Brown to observe how they managed substance abuse issues and consulted with other members of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, a group of 31 elite private universities that work together on financial and academic issues.

A search committee for what is now Flores’ position was formed in summer 2008 under Gentry’s leadership, and originally searched for and interviewed several outside candidates. None of those was quite the right fit, Gentry said, and so the search was suspended until Gentry sent an e-mail to freshman counselors, Flores included, in the fall of 2009 asking them to apply. Interviews were conducted in the spring, and Flores began work July 1.

The idea was to find someone with an intimate understanding of student life — in particular, freshman life — at Yale, so that the person could begin working without a learning curve. To remain connected to freshman life at Yale, Flores is even living in a suite on Old Campus.

And he has already begun an education and programming campaign.

Flores said he is not looking to eliminate or reduce student drinking or drug use, but instead to offset the risks that come with each. Not only is enforcement of underage drinking laws difficult on a campus where almost half the students are of legal drinking age, he said, but it is not the task of the Dean’s Office. Instead, Flores’ primary concerns are substance abuse education and programs.

“Alcohol use has been a reality of college life since college has been around,” Flores said. “What’s most effective is to figure out how you can mitigate the risks associated with high-risk alcohol use.”

Initiatives such as providing water bottles at tailgates, Flores said, are designed to teach students healthful habits to accompany unhealthful drinking. He said he worked with freshman counselors during their training before the start of school, and will continue to work with them to organize additional alcohol safety programming right before high-risk times, such as Silliman College’s Safety Dance and Calhoun College’s Trolley Night.

Flores is not the only one working to reduce the risks of excessive drinking; just as administrators are working to discourage unhealthful drinking habits, students, too, are taking action to keep their classmates out of the hospital.

Because last year’s Safety Dance saw at least eight inebriated students sent to the hospital in ambulances, Silliman is taking rigorous measures to prevent a repeat this year.

Disclaimers stressing the importance of responsible drinking have been included on promotional posters, and students who appear to be too intoxicated will be barred from entry into the dance, said Isabel Santos-Gonzales ’13, who is organizing this year’s Safety Dance. And to keep the debauchery to a minimum, tickets at the door will be double the presale price of $5, and doors to the dance will close at midnight, she said.

Unlike Silliman, Calhoun will not be taking such actions to curb alcohol abuse at tonight’s Trolley Night. No students were transported to the hospital from the dance last year, Calhoun Student Activity Council co-chairwoman Natalie Papillion ’13 said.

“We think the [security] options we’ve had in the past have been sufficient, so we’re not doing anything extra,” Papillion said.

Still, Trolley Night will only grant entry to Hounies and two guests, and the college is still encouraging responsible drinking by providing water, virgin pina coladas and margarita mixers at the dance.

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