U of I studies idea of becoming dry campus

Students at the University of Idaho are reportedly drinking about the same amount of alcohol as they have for a decade, but that has not stifled discussion of the possibility of a dry campus.

At the request of U of I’s vice provost for student affairs, Jean Kim, a psychologist at the university’s counseling and testing center, has been working to gather community input.

“It’s one strategy that other campuses are doing that we should take a look at to see if it applies to our campus,” said U of I psychologist Sharon Fritz. “We’re merely exploring this possibility. I have heard no conversation that this is the direction we’re going at all.”

In fact, Fritz doesn’t believe the change would be beneficial.

The way U of I now handles underage drinking is working far better than the more stark “Just Say No” campaigns of the 1990s, she said.

“Twenty years ago … we would tell them, ‘Drinking is not a good thing, don’t do it,’ ” Fritz said. “Our message shifted to say, ‘It’s illegal if you’re underage, your lowest risk is not to do it, but if you are going to do it, do it in a way that is not risky for you and everybody else around you.’ ”

Fritz said the shift has changed the way students view the university, as well as the culture around drinking on campus.

“Over the past few years there has been a big culture shift that is focusing on safety,” she said. “Our student groups are having parties with the intent of helping people have fun but be safe. What I think we ought to do is continue with those efforts.”

According to the National College Health Assessment, the number of U of I students who choose not to drink has jumped from 15 percent to 21 percent since 2005. Of those who say they drink, 86 percent say they use a designated driver and remain with the same group of friends the entire time, 82 percent report eating before drinking, and 67 percent report keeping track of the number of drinks they consume.

Data from the school’s 2015 Security and Fire Safety Report also show alcohol arrests on and off campus declined between 2012 and 2014. During the two-year period, on-campus arrests declined from 41 to 23, off-campus arrests from 20 to six, and public-property arrests from 40 to 23.

Fritz said that is an indicator that U of I’s approach is paying off. But there could be other factors.

Campus officer and Moscow Police Capt. James Fry said he cannot be certain the changes in programming are the only reason arrests have slowed, as the police force was down five officers during the past year, although it is now fully staffed.

“It will be interesting to see next year’s numbers,” which will be a better indicator of change, Fry said.

Although he said a dry-campus program has value, he doesn’t believe it would benefit the U of I, as current programming, particularly involving agreements with and supervision of the Greek community, seems to be working.

Just because you have a dry campus doesn’t mean kids won’t drink. They’ll just go somewhere where they can.

Moscow Police Capt. James Fry

Fritz agrees.

“I do believe that there are going to be different problems if we make our campus dry,” Fritz said. “It’s not going to eliminate problems. It’s just going to shift our problems. Right now we know what our problems are, and we’ve been successfully addressing them. Let us stay the course.”