BU Today

Campus Life + Health & Wellness

Be Well, BU: When It Comes to Booze, Students Don’t Always See Straight

Few peers raise eyebrows at excessive drinking, says BU’s wellness expert


Health educator Beth Grampetro says partying students often don’t realize how much they’re drinking. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

This week, BU Today looks at the year in wellness at BostonUniversity, reminding students, faculty, and staff of the health andsafety resources available to the University community.

A recent study conducted at the University at Buffalo found alarming links between drinking and sexual and physical assault, particularly for freshman women who drink more during the first year of college than they did in high school. The report, released by the university’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), surveyed almost 900 female freshmen and found 22 percent of those who started drinking on campus or increased their consumption reported being victimized. Estimates compiled by other health experts have pegged alcohol-related physical assaults on college campuses at 600,000 a year, with sexual assaults at around 100,000 a year.

BU Today discussed the report with Beth Grampetro, the health and wellness educator at Student Health Services, who is responsible for health education programs on campus, including those focusing on alcohol. In light of such figures, we asked Grampetro how well BU students understand the risks involved with heavy drinking.

BU Today: How well-informed do you find the student body when it comes to the dangers of alcohol?
Grampetro: On the whole, our students are informed when it comes to the broader issues. They know that drinking excessively has consequences, up to and including death. But many aren’t aware that one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. That means most of them are drinking more drinks at a time than they realize. Your typical “red cup” is 18 ounces, for example. They also don’t realize that things like blacking out, passing out, and alcohol poisoning don’t happen only after a dozen drinks. It can happen after just a few.

What differences do you see in attitude or awareness between male students and female students when it comes to alcohol consumption?
I think women are slightly more aware that they could be victimized and tend to be a bit more careful about not walking home alone and such, but really in the past five years or so it has become just as socially acceptable for women to get excessively drunk as it has been for men. I think the attitude these days is that out-of-control behavior from students who are drinking is par for the course. Not every student approves, but most look at those antics as what’s expected to happen when people are drinking.

From where you sit, do the results of the RIA freshman drinking study line up with what you’ve observed at BU?
Since I’m not a counselor, I’m not typically the person to whom a student will disclose an incident of sexual or physical violence. In the few instances where a student has disclosed that information to me, alcohol was always involved. Anecdotally, I would agree that what the study shows and what’s happening on our campus are likely similar. We’re also quite similar to most other colleges as far as our data regarding heavy episodic drinking and general alcohol use, so it stands to reason that our students, engaging in many of the same behaviors as their peers at other institutions, are likely experiencing similar consequences.

How does the community discuss the issue of alcohol, sexual assault, and behavior modification without placing the burden of responsibility on women or perpetuating the notion of female as victim?
When I speak with students, I try to encourage all of them, men and women, to be responsible for themselves and their friends when they go out. While no one, male or female, can be accused of “inviting” a sexual assault, and a victim is not at fault for what happens to him or her, we can all do things when we are out to minimize the chances that we may be victimized. It’s a fuzzy line between saying, “Watch out for yourself” and “If anything happens, it isn’t your fault,” but I believe those are both true. I think we can do things like staying together, making sure we all get home safe, drinking moderately so that we make better decisions. But we can’t prevent everything.

Do you know of studies that have examined alcohol and male sexual predators on college campuses?
There’s a study referenced by the Higher Education Center that suggests that alcohol use may cause men to misperceive women’s sexual interest, have less concern for the woman’s experience, and be less able to evaluate correctly whether the woman has consented.

What advice would you give young female students who plan to go out drinking? What advice to men?
I’ll answer these together because my advice is the same. Students who choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than one drink per hour and no more than four drinks per night. They should pay careful attention when their drinks are prepared and served, and also note how large the drink actually is. Again, a Solo cup is typically 18 ounces, which is one-and-a-half beers, not just one. When friends go out in groups, everyone who goes out together should come home together. As far as sexual activity, I’d say that it’s better to wait till everyone’s sober. You’re more likely to make decisions you’ll be happy with the next day, more likely to use protection, and more likely to be able to consent with a clear head.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

This story originally ran March 5, 2008.

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