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U.Va. Students And Officials Seek To End Drinking Practice Tied To Last Home Football Game

November 9, 2000 -- As the University of Virginia’s last home football game approaches on Nov. 18, numerous efforts are under way to promote healthy decision-making among students and to discourage alcohol abuse.

U.Va. officials and students are organizing events in a continuing campaign to dispel a decades-old perception that alcohol use among students is a rite of passage. Educational events during an Alcohol Awareness Week will begin Saturday, Nov. 11. In addition, a student group hopes to curb the "4th-year fifth," a practice in recent years by some fourth-year students to attempt to consume a fifth of alcohol on the day of the last home football game.

Descriptions of efforts uniting U.Va. officials with student leaders, athletes and members of the Greek system follow.

Stopping Stupid Traditions

The U.Va. student organization, Fourth Years Ending Stupid Traditions (F.E.S.T) has a name that matches its mission.

The students, Fourth-Year Trustees of the Class of 2001, have banded together to raise awareness of the dangers of high-risk drinking and to promote responsible drinking behavior during the last home football game. Through Project F.E.S.T., the trustees hope to eliminate the "4th-year fifth," a drinking practice started less than 20 years ago.

Attempting to drink a fifth of liquor is extremely dangerous, said Dr. James C. Turner, director of U.Va.’s student health department. "It’s tantamount to playing Russian roulette. It places a young person at extremely high risk of injury, sickness or death."

F.E.S.T. members are asking students to sign pledge cards promising to drink responsibly and not to participate in the "4th-year fifth." Students who bring the signed pledge cards to the football game can redeem them for U.Va. cups that entitle them to free non-alcoholic beverages during the event. Cardholders will also be eligible for a raffle of prizes donated by local merchants.

"Nearly half of the Class of 2000 took the pledge last year, the first year of Project F.E.S.T.," said Matt Madden, a fourth-year trustee, who is a government and history major. "We hope to build on that success this year to put this ugly and destructive ‘tradition’ to rest."

Dr. Turner affirms that last year’s efforts to curb the "4th-year fifth" practice met with success. He noted that last year two students who had attempted to drink a fifth were admitted to the emergency room, compared to 11 the preceding year.

Madden observed that the class trustees feel especially committed to ending the "4th-year fifth" drinking practice. He noted that Leslie Baltz, a 21-year-old honor student, died in 1997, the year his class were first-year students, after falling down a stairway on the day of U.Va.’s last home game.

"We want to end what is certainly not a tradition or even a wildly popular practice," Madden said. A 1999 U.Va. study, for example, indicated that 16 percent of fourth-year students attempted the "4th-year fifth."

To encourage students to sign pledges, athletes, cheerleaders and members of the Greek system will staff tables on the Lawn. They also will circulate pledge cards during an a capella concert on Nov. 12.

[For more information, contact Matt Madden at (804) 924-8884, the Student Council Office; (804) 245-8737, home; or via madden@virginia.edu.

Baltz Family Will Participate in Healthy Tradition

Area residents are invited to participate in the "4th-year 5K" race (or walk) on the morning of Nov. 18, the day of the last home football game. The event, which was created in 1992 by U.Va.’s Office of Health Promotion as a healthy way to celebrate the last home game, will begin at 8 a.m. at the Aquatic and Fitness Center at 450 Whitehead Rd.

A portion of the race proceeds will be donated to the Leslie Baltz Scholarship fund. Her family will participate in the same event that she ran in 1997.

"We are pleased to take part in a healthy U.Va. tradition that will support a positive message to all students and that will recognize and honor Leslie’s life as a fourth-year student," said Vivian Baltz, Leslie’s mother.

The scholarship, established by the Baltz family, provides money to students majoring in art or art history or who want to study in Italy. For every person who crosses the race’s finish line at the Aquatic and Fitness Center, $1 will be donated to the scholarship fund.

The event is open to University students, faculty and staff as well as area residents. Registration costs $5 for fourth-year students and $10 for all others. People can register on the Lawn or at Ragged Mountain Running Shop the week before the race or at the Aquatic and Fitness Center on race day.

For more information on the race, contact Abbie Shore, faculty advisor, at (804) 924-1509 or acs3p@virginia.edu or Latrina Lemon, a student peer health educator who is the race coordinator, at (804) 243-4938 or lcl2a@virginia.edu.

Campaign, Ad to Focus on Social "Norm" of Drinking

Events such as Alcohol Awareness Week and the "4th-year 5K" are part of a comprehensive effort by U.Va. officials to reduce high-risk drinking among students. Prevention and education efforts begin during orientation for first-year students and continue throughout the academic year with peer-led group presentations, training for residence staff in student housing, late-night social events, and individual assistance from professional staff.

To complement these efforts, U.Va.’s Office of Health Promotion in the Student Health Department coordinates a social norms marketing campaign to promote responsible drinking and reduce the negative effects of alcohol. Currently focused on first-year students, the social norms campaign uses quantitative and qualitative research to assess students’ drinking habits and behaviors.

These "norms" are then communicated to students on posters placed in bathroom stalls of the first-year residence halls. Recent messages have included "59% of U.Va. first-year students have 0-4 drinks per week," "80% of 1st years agree that when drinking, it’s important to stay in control," and "70% of 1st years have not missed a class due to drinking."

"Like many institutions across the country, we have found that our students tend to overestimate the extent to which everyone else is drinking," said Cindy Miller, the social norms marketing coordinator in the Health Promotion Office. "That overestimation can lead students to feel pressure to drink more than they normally would to ‘fit in.’ We attempt to alleviate that pressure by providing students with the facts."

In association with Alcohol Awareness Week and the "4th-year 5K," Miller’s office will run an ad in the Nov. 17 issue of the Cavalier Daily that reads, "Majority Rules: MOST (84%) U.Va. Fourth-Year Students do not participate in the 4th-year 5th."

Although the social norms campaign is still in its early stages, it is meeting with some success. A survey conducted in spring 1999 indicated that while students reported consuming an average of 6.1 drinks per week, they believed their peers to consume an average of 9.3 drinks per week.

A follow-up survey in spring 2000 indicated that students’ perceptions of drinking by their peers were much more accurate. In addition, actual consumption of alcohol and the experience of negative consequences associated with drinking decreased among first-year women, Miller noted.

A spring 2000 survey, however, indicated that first-year men experienced an increase in both consumption and negative consequences.

Since the social norms campaign is only in its second full year of implementation, officials caution that it is still too early to tell if the program will be effective. However, they are encouraged by some of the early results and plan to launch a campus-wide campaign in the next year focusing on the entire student population.

For more information, contact Cindy Miller at (804) 924-2776 or cmm9y@virginia.edu.

Candid Talks by Mrs. Baltz and Others Highlight Alcohol Awareness Week

Although the week is observed nationally in October, U.Va.’s Alcohol Awareness Week is held in November to coincide with the last home football game in an effort to promote responsible drinking behavior among students.

The week is planned by a University-wide committee chaired by student peer educators in ADAPT, a program created in response to recommendations of the 1998 U.Va. alcohol task force calling for greater student leadership on alcohol issues. Peer educators in ADAPT, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team in U.Va.’s Center for Alcohol and Substance Education (CASE), work with administrators and other students to promote messages of responsibility, safety and caring for others.

The events are intended to stimulate thoughtful discussion, provide useful information and promote healthy decisions about alcohol use, according to Jill Ingram, ADAPT peer educator and chair of the week’s planning committee.

ADAPT will kick off a Pedestrian Safety/Designated Driver program Saturday, Nov. 11, at Corner restaurants. The program, designed to promote a safer and healthier college environment, is a collaboration between ADAPT and Corner merchants, who have agreed to provide free non-alcoholic beverages to students who pledge to be designated drivers for their groups. In return, ADAPT will run ads in the Cavalier Daily that recognize the merchants' contributions and promote student awareness of the program. The initiative has been funded through a grant from the Virginia ABC.

As evidence of the breadth of commitment across Grounds to support educational efforts, co-sponsors of Alcohol Awareness Week include ADAPT, Arts and Sciences Council, Asian Student Union, Black Fraternal Council, CASE, Dining Services, F.E.S.T., First-Year Resource Center, Fourth-Year Trustees, Inter-Sorority Council, Office of the Dean of Students, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Peer Health Educators, Phi Alpha Delta, Student Athlete Mentors, Student Council, Student Health, University Bookstore and University Programs Council.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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