Two weeks ago, an Ezra Stiles sophomore crossed the line between tipsy and what could appropriately be called “blind drunk.” After a night of partying, he returned to his room and realized he had lost track of his girlfriend. In his inebriated state, he concluded the most logical response was to break into a sleeping friend’s room and pummel him awake so he could help find the girlfriend.
The victimized friend suffered only a bleeding lip, but overconsumption of alcohol is also landing students in UHS or the Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency room, Yale administrators and freshman counselors said.
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said concern about an upsurge in “binge” drinking is a large part of the motivation behind President Richard Levin’s decision-, announced early this month, to convene a panel reviewing the administration’s alcohol policy. But there is no consensus among members of the Yale community as to whether binge drinking on campus is actually increasing or is an issue that needs to be addressed by the administration.
The apparent increase in drinking that Trachtenberg referenced is based on informal observations and conversations rather than quantitative research, she said.
“I hear a lot from students about the kind of drinking that goes on at parties, before parties, or in people’s rooms,” Trachtenberg said. “We worry that somebody is going to get hurt dangerously.”
While there is no official clinical definition for binge drinking, in the past two decades the scientific community has come to generally accept five drinks in a row for men and four drinks in a row for women as a “binge.” In order to classify students as “binge drinkers,” past studies have asked students if they have had a binge drinking episode anytime during a period ranging from two to four weeks prior to the survey.
A survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reported that the proportion of college students classified as binge drinkers has barely increased from 1993 (43.9 percent) to 2001 (44.4 percent). But although the rise is small, the study noted that it occurred despite schools’ intense efforts this decade to curb binge drinking through student education and stricter enforcement of policies.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he was aware of the stable trend in binge drinking rates on a national level, but he said it would be premature to assume that Yale follows the general trend.
“One of the things I’m hoping we can do is collect some anonymous data here at Yale, so we can better capture what’s happening locally,” Salovey said.
If the number of students taken to University Health Services for extreme intoxication is any indicator of the amount of binge drinking on campus, then this year has not seen a significant increase, Director of University Health Services Paul Genecin said. But he added that UHS only sees the most extreme cases.
“We only see the tip of the iceberg,” Genecin said. “We only see the people who are transported to us, so we don’t know about the whole universe of binge drinking.”
The majority of freshmen are able to crawl back to their rooms and “sleep off” the consequences of an evening of excess, Amy Bonnaffons ’05, a Pierson freshman counselor, said. Even if a freshman is sick, his suitemates will often be able to take care of him throughout the night. But if no one is around to watch him, or if his suitemates have also been imbibing heavily, a freshman counselor may choose to send the freshman to UHS. In some situations, a counselor may even decide to call an ambulance and have the student taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
“It was really hammered into us at our freshman counselor training to err on the side of caution,” Bonnaffons said.
Sadiq Abdulla ’05, a Timothy Dwight counselor, said that the names of students who are taken to UHS for excessive drinking will not be reported to their deans if the students have left the facility by 8 a.m. But Abdulla said when a student is taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, his dean is informed, he is charged for the ambulance ride and, if his medical plan is under his parents’ names, his parents receive the hospital bill.
Bonnaffons said Pierson freshman counselors have had to transport three students to Yale-New Haven Hospital this year and added that she had heard the number of transports to Yale-New Haven Hospital was higher than ever this year.
“I don’t see a lot of budding alcoholics, but there have definitely been some bad nights,” Bonnaffons said. “The external indicators would say that this has been a particularly bad year.”
Francine Bourgeois ’05, a Branford freshman counselor, said several Branford freshmen have had to be transported to the hospital. But she said although any amount of binge drinking is a cause for concern, she does not think this year is worse than usual.
“I haven’t gotten the impression that it’s significantly higher now or there’s this upsurge of binge drinking,” Bourgeois said. “It’s sort of a normal level.”
Similarly, other counselors did not report noticing any alarmingly high levels of binge drinking among freshmen. Max Neuvians ’05, another Branford freshman counselor, and Susan Chan ’05, a freshman counselor for Silliman, said they did not think freshman drinking was on the rise.
Saybrook freshman counselor Justin Christofel ’05 went as far to say that it has been a good year for the college in terms of alcohol safety.
“We haven’t had too many [alcohol-related incidents] … it hasn’t been a big problem,” Cristofel said.
Alfred Shikany ’07, social chair of Beta Theta Pi, said he had not noticed any increase at all in binge drinking this year.
Yale College Council President Andrew Cedar ’06 echoed this observation.
“Based on my own living and experience at Yale, I don’t think it’s much different this year,” Cedar said.
If administration officials do find after conducting surveys that the level of binge drinking has increased, changing the way the University enforces its alcohol policy could be a delicate task, Trachtenberg said.
“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” Trachtenberg said. “You want students to call for help, and yet you have people who are flagrantly ignoring the regulations.”
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