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BU Mandates Online Alcohol Course for First-Year Students

Will educate about truths and myths of campus consumption


More than a third (35 percent) of first-year BU students don’t drink alcohol. But many students may not know that, misled by urban myth about universal, Animal House imbibing on college campuses.

This year, the University is requiring first-year students to take an online alcohol course to separate truthful wheat from mythic chaff, starting before they even arrive on campus.

Those students will receive log-in instructions midsummer for AlcoholEdu for College. The course includes two parts: the first, featuring educational material and surveys before and after the material is studied, takes between one and a half and two and a half hours to complete. (It needn’t all be done in one sitting.) Part 2 is a third, 15-minute survey.

In recent years, the University has offered students another online survey, iHealth, to dispel misconceptions, but has not required it. The hope is that through the mandatory course, students will be more responsible about alcohol use.

“It is used by most of our peer institutions as a prevention-level intervention for first-year college students” to curb dangerous drinking, says Elizabeth Douglas, manager of wellness and prevention services at Student Health Services. “We are using AlcoholEdu because it has the capacity to track student completion, in addition to having evidence of its being an effective intervention.”

That evidence comes from a three-year, 30-campus study that found reduced frequency of drinking, including binge drinking, and related problems among students who participated in AlcoholEdu, as compared with students who did not.

Part 1 must be completed before students arrive on campus for the academic year. They will be required to finish Part 2 sometime in October; the University will send them a reminder email. AlcoholEdu is designed to be taken by both drinkers and nondrinking students. The surveys and intersecting information touch on such topics as how many drinks are in a bottle of wine or beer, factors influencing whether people drink, exaggerated notions of heavy drinking on campuses, alcohol’s effects on the body and mind, and tactics students can use to protect themselves and friends from harm in a variety of drinking situations.

The course also provides information for parents about discussions they should have with their children: about alcohol, about its possible effects on schoolwork, and about drinking laws. It asks their views on college alcohol policies, issues they deem important to discuss with their kids, and demographic information about their families. (Parents wanting a demonstration of the program can find it here.)

The new program follows a drop in alcohol-related violations and hospital runs on campus last year, which officials attribute to their recent alcohol enforcement program, entering its third academic year this fall. That program features increased police patrols of known party neighborhoods, dispersing parties, issuing citations, and publishing fall’s enforcement statistics on BU Today.

Meanwhile, a city ordinance allows Boston police to arrest landlords and tenants in so-called problem properties—rentals with four documented complaints of loud parties or alcohol violations.

Douglas says the University likely will use AlcoholEdu in coming years, since BU chooses responsible drinking programs “based on research and evidence of effectiveness.”

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

23 Comments on BU Mandates Online Alcohol Course for First-Year Students

  • COM senior on 06.13.2013 at 5:44 am

    Making freshman take an online survey is not going to do anything. Arresting landlords is not going to do anything. College kids are college kids and theyre going to party no matter what the school does. When BU and the police go around actively breaking up off campus parties, they are sending hoards of students into the streets of Allston and Brookline in the middle of the night. And if students cant go to parties on GAP and other “known” party areas, they will only venture further away from campus. Are they really concerned about our safety?

    Suggestion: don’t patrol the streets looking for parties. Patrol the streets LOOKING FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP. Isnt that what police are supposed to do? How many muggings were there last year again?

    • Smarter Child on 06.13.2013 at 9:38 am

      Lets leave alcohol out of this for a minute.

      Boston and Brookline PD patrol these neighborhoods for one major reason that you don’t mention. This is a quality of life issue for the residents living in the “known” party areas. The parties that get shut down are the large, out of control ones. These parties serve as a major disturbance to the long term, adult residents of the neighborhood. It is impossible to even sit in your living room and watch TV when a huge party is raging on your block.

      I appreciate the fact that our police forces are shutting down these out of control parties. Also, I think we can agree that police aren’t shutting down parties of 5-10 people who are just over at a friend’s house having a few drinks and hanging out.

      • Former SMG Student on 08.31.2013 at 12:45 am

        Unfortunately they often do and are EXTREMELY aggressive about it.

        Also few adults tend to live in the Allston GAP area BU likes to talk about.

        I’ve also seen large parties that are quite and well contained indoors shut down anything. Without a happy medium that can be found it will not end well.

    • Max on 06.13.2013 at 1:13 pm

      Of course an online survey won’t do anything to help, but based on BU’s persistently stubborn reactions to the inevitability that students will drink you have to ask yourself a question… Is the survey actually intended to diminish the amount of underage drinking, or solely to help BU save face?

      BU must know students will inevitably be caught drinking illegally at a large university which refuses to acknowledge the prevalence of underage drinking (in an analogously stubborn country that refuses to acknowledge the backwards-mindedness of continuing to enforce the illegality of drinking under the age of 18), so they do whatever they can to aid their public image in anticipation of the failures of their system.
      It seems a little petty to make each incoming freshman waste hours of their time just to give BU something to reference when its embarrassingly faulty system goes wrong, don’t you think?

      • Henry on 07.16.2013 at 11:51 pm

        Max, this course is a standard required among many if not most colleges and universities today. It’s not a “BU thing trying to save face.” My daughter is attending a small college in Massachusetts, and she has to take the exact same course. You can stop bashing on BU, dude. It’s what all the schools are requiring now, and it’s a good thing.

        • Former SMG Student on 08.31.2013 at 12:45 am

          Agreed. Survey isn’t a bad thing.

    • Henry on 07.16.2013 at 11:17 pm

      COM senior, you’re sounding like a fool. There are serious consequences that come when people drink to excess. What is Boston University expected to do when people who drink to excess turn out to be its students? Just sit back and say, “hey, have a good time,”? Get smashed and walk into a moving car on Comm. Ave? Get hammered and be assaulted by another drunk fool? The University has to take a stand, first. Then it needs to implement a plan, second. Which is what it’s done here. And I applaud BU for doing this. The tone of your post is that “nothing can be done” to bend the curve on college drinking. What you’re looking for BU to do is just give up, and I hope it never does when it comes to this issue. It’s too important.

  • Anonymous on 06.13.2013 at 7:46 am

    What’s your opinion on the program Rich? Seems extremely arbitrary to me. 30 schools over 3 years – the site is obviously not doing too well. Additionally, that program is useless. All it did was take cops off streets they should have been on, leading to more muggings last yr, and as we tragically saw, accidents will still happen. I bet if you compared some of the bigger party schools to BU, the alchahol numbers wouldn’t be too different, and they are very tolerant of the parties. BU should stop trying to take that experimenting factor out of college.

  • student on 06.13.2013 at 7:51 am

    While alcohol is something that needs to be talked about, I think BU needs to focus more on securing the campus than preventing a few kids from having a party… I don’t understand why they are more concerned about alcohol patrols than bandit patrols.

  • DDeg on 06.13.2013 at 8:19 am

    REALLY, if the University was genuinely concerned about campus drinking they wouldn’t sell Margarita Mix at Buick Street Market or shot glasses and beer mugs at Campus Convenience, and allow the purchase using Terrier points!

    • Kyle Potter on 06.13.2013 at 11:34 am

      Why can’t 21+ year old students who live in StuVi have a margarita? Dean Elmore has fostered an acceptance of responsible drinking with his personal efforts to join students at the BU Pub, T’s Pub, Eastern Standard, and other on-campus bars. I don’t see why selling margarita mix in Buick Street Market would be fostering an environment of unsafe drinking.

  • ookbot on 06.13.2013 at 8:23 am

    Change the drinking age to 18 and reduce enforcement.

  • Alumnus on 06.13.2013 at 8:50 am

    I always feel like these programs focus more on the sticks than on the carrots. The carrots are clear:
    – You won’t feel sick
    – You will be in better shape
    – You don’t lose control over your actions
    – You’ll be safer (i.e. if you’re worried about getting attacked, getting drunk IS NOT an intelligent strategy to keep you aware and careful)
    – You’ll save more money
    and my favorite:
    – You won’t need to lose more hours sleeping to recover

    Plain and simple. The more you drink, the harder it will be for you to achieve all the objectives you pay BU a fortune to help you with.

    If this is not enough of an incentive, social Darwinism will ensure you’re always several steps behind from your equals who don’t drink. And if you make a mess while you’re drunk, you will be arrested just like any other person who makes a mess, sober or drunk.

    If you’re still not convinced, just draw up a cost benefit of everything you gain from drinking and everything you gain from not drinking in the short and long term. Once you do that, it’s a no-brainer.

    • Mom on 06.13.2013 at 9:24 am

      Perfect reply. Thank you. Now to com senior….please….just follow the law.

  • Mo on 06.13.2013 at 9:20 am

    Couldn’t hurt. Bravo BU. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. To assume that these kids are coming in prepared is foolish. Maybe this course will breathe a little maturity into some of these kids.

  • Student on 06.13.2013 at 9:32 am

    Maybe instead of beginning a mandatory alcohol course for first-year students, BU should consider completely changing their alcohol policy. It’s absolutely absurd that there is no amnesty policy. Alcohol prevention programs for the most part are unsuccessful (DARE) and in the event of an emergency, BU’s current policies regarding alcohol are outdated and make students think before seeking help, putting lives at risk. I’ve heard of many cases of students asking for help/calling an ambulance for a friend and as a consequence being punished for simply asking for help, even if they themselves were not underage drinking (probation, ect).

  • anonymous2 on 06.13.2013 at 11:16 am

    My sons and I were talking about how BU seems to be the most dangerous place to attend college. Muggings, stabbings, bike accidents, random shootings, fires, now bombings. This program feeds into what we already think about BU. It’s run like a corporate police state. This new program is a major turn off and won’t change any behavior. But it will allow BU to collect more fines. Money, money, money. . . .

    • Smarter Child on 06.13.2013 at 11:45 am

      It is a disgrace that you bring up the bombings as a reason why BU is dangerous place to attend college.

      BU is located within a major US city. These unfortunate occurrences that you mention happen in all major cities, including NYC, Chicago, Miami, LA, etc

      Get a grip.

    • Sunil on 06.13.2013 at 12:05 pm

      NOT TRUE. You can get involved in your Son’s education at BU by knowing his quiz grades, home work grades, test scores, e-mailing his professor, etc. etc. When you do that, you will understand BU is not what you wrote in your comment. Yes, there have been incidences. A general safety instructions will take care of many of your concerns originating from the city campus setting. For example, law requires bikers to follow all the traffic rules while biking on the road. That is not the case around BU and Cambridge. That should be a part of the safety instruction.

  • Sunil on 06.13.2013 at 11:17 am

    The mandatory online Alcohol course is a needed welcome step. Students who are going to drink will drink no matter what, but they will do so with higher level of awareness reducing police time spent on breaking off the parties (as you say). I hope BU also devises a mandatory online course which teaches safety to the incoming students on a city campus, like BU.

  • Beth on 06.14.2013 at 10:27 am

    As a BU staff member, I’m curious to check this program out. The parent link still requires a login ID. How do they get it? And is there a way for a staff member to take a look? Thanks.

  • grad student on 06.14.2013 at 12:55 pm

    I think the course is a good idea – can’t hurt – for the reasons outlined in the article. It provides a forum of sorts that allows naïve incoming freshmen (oops PC now… first year students) a place to get the facts. That is all. Focus should be on a certain level of tolerance and not hunt after students who are drinking.

    I think a large problem in this country is the taboo nature of alcohol use < 21 years. I went to a dry campus in the Midwest for my undergrad years. Nearby, there was another college that allowed kegs in the dorms. This provided 2 unique outcomes. The other college had a more liberal alcohol policy, even for those under 21 = fewer incidents, limited in intensity. Most of the students who drank there stuck to beer. At my college where nothing was allowed, students primarily drank hard alcohol for obvious reasons.

    The result was that my school had an overwhelming number of incidents where many freshmen had to be taken to the hospital to get their stomachs pumped out. Being overly strict works against the nature of the college student and provides no good outcomes.

  • Elizabeth Berube on 08.16.2013 at 10:22 am

    This survey completely assumes that every child, adult and student drinks, has drank and continues to do so, apparently often. When asked of the student when the last time they drank, never wasn’t an option. Drinking isn’t as socially acceptable to all as one would think, certainly not by the creators or proponents of this survey. For some individuals and families, drinking has had extremely negative impacts, mental and physical wellbeing, including death. Many people just don’t drink nor do they want to, ever. It’s a choice. There are many who actually do say no thank you and frankly don’t care what others think. Too bad that isn’t the norm. Kids learn about the use and abuse of alcohol from their parents and families at home, holidays, family gatherings and sporting events. That sets the precedence of acceptance, use and abuse.

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