Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Safer Social Environment by President Gast

A Safer Social Environment

Alice P. Gast

The Panhellenic, Interfraternity and Multi-Cultural Greek Councils deserve our appreciation and support for their recent adoption of a new social policy to provide a safer social environment, increase risk management and improve relationships with the community. Their self-imposed ban on the use of chapter funds for the purchase of hard alcohol and their removal of hard alcohol from social events will go a long way toward reducing the hospital transports and dangers from alcohol abuse. I am very impressed with the thoughtful and insightful policy that the three Greek governing councils have proposed and implemented, and I firmly believe that their peers should take notice.

It is powerful to have the student leadership recognizing the problems with unsafe patterns of alcohol consumption and taking action on this issue directly.  The Greek governing councils’ work to raise awareness, develop self-imposed sanctions and improve the culture of the social life on the hill will benefit all students, particularly our first-year students who are exploring their options and may have false expectations about alcohol use in college.  This is particularly important as we become more aware of the patterns of alcohol use among teenagers in high school and their first year in college. Lehigh’s student leadership in this area can be a model for the country.

Far too many deaths have occurred across the country due to hard alcohol use, especially in relation to hazing and initiation events for a wide range of student organizations.  While Lehigh University upholds its strict ban on hazing, the three Greek governing councils have recognized that the availability of hard alcohol at social events is related to unsafe consumption and concomitant health and safety risks. The Lehigh administration is actively involved in two organizations that are working to define best practices and to help schools across the country reduce alcohol abuse on campuses. 

In 2011 the NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) convened a working group of presidents of universities from around the country. I serve on this NIAAA College Presidents Working Group in order to help to bring national attention to the college drinking issue and to make recommendations for actionable change. Lehigh also belongs to The Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking.  The Learning Collaborative is an organization of more than 30 schools joining forces to address the problems of binge drinking on college campuses and is led by The National College Health Improvement Project at Dartmouth College. Lehigh student affairs administrators have met with their counterparts to share policies and practices that are helping to improve health and safety on campuses. The Lehigh Greek social policy will be an important example to share with these groups. More information about Lehigh’s work in this area can be found at

Lehigh is also adding late-night programming of activities such as open-mic nights, movie nights, cultural programs, intramural competitions, and a variety of events sponsored by student clubs and organizations to provide interesting and engaging activities for students that do not involve alcohol consumption. Students with new ideas for attractive late-night events and activities should send their thoughts to Matt Kitchie, Director of Student Activities.

While the Lehigh administration is working on both national and local levels to confront the problems of high-risk drinking, the student initiative of a social policy is the most powerful force in this effort. I applaud the students’ efforts and, in solidarity with their ban on the serving of hard alcohol at events in their houses, I will eliminate the serving of hard alcohol from events in the President’s House. I am asking everyone on our campus who hosts social events to consider doing the same. I want to hear your ideas. Together, we can make Lehigh University a safer and healthier place.