Diversity may curb binge-drinking

by Jenna Farleigh | 11/6/03 6:00am

High-risk drinkers -- generally identified as white, male and underage -- tend to drink less on American college campuses if living among high numbers of non-white, female or older students, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, surveyed students from 114 colleges four times between 1993 and 2001. It defined binge drinking as the consumption of at least five drinks in a row for men or four drinks in a row for women.

The study not only found that being white, male, and underage are three risk factors for binge drinking, but also that students who fall into these high-risk categories tend to drink less in a more diverse setting.

It was estimated in the study that 48.6 percent of white students binge drink in contrast to 27.0 percent of non-white students. The overall figure for colleges is 44.4 percent.

"I have seen data that minority students on some campuses do drink less," Director of Health Services Jack Turco said. "However, I have also seen data from campuses where minorities are the majority, and drinking rates are at the same level as those of Caucasian students. It is a very complicated issue."

The influence of older and minority students on members of the high-risk subgroups appeared to be quite strong in the Harvard study, whereas the influence of female students tended to be slightly weaker.

"If you have younger white males together to the exclusion of other groups, you're going to have fewer role models for lighter or non-drinking behavior," said Henry Wechsler, principal investigator of the study and director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health told Reuters. "That may explain why fraternities have had such a high level of drinking problems."

The study also recommended that colleges take into account the beneficial effects of a diverse student body on binge-drinking rates when making admissions decisions.

Pooneet Kant '07 disagreed, however, believing that changing the demographics of an institution only for the purpose of alleviating binge drinking is absurd.

"Racial integration has nothing to do with drinking," he said.

Ellen Menocal '07 said that while she agreed with some of the study's findings on the effects of diversity, they were unlikely to hold true in every case.

"I'd say guys drink more than girls," she said. "I think it depends on your mentality though."

Turco said that while there may be evidence to suggest a decrease in abusive drinking when low risk students are paired with high risk students, there are many other options to reduce abusive drinking other than altering the demographics of an entire institution.

Dartmouth offers many programs that aim to combat abusive drinking on campus, including the Social Norms Campaign, which contrasts statistics on binge drinking with student perceptions of it. "Often students perceive a higher percent than the norm," Turco said. "The overwhelming majority of students don't drink abusively."