With influx of funding, Pitt will amp up alcohol education

By Amrita Beaudine / For The Pitt News

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To aid the fight against alcohol abuse on campus, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has awarded a $34,412 grant to Pitt.

The Board awards grants to organizations based on their ability to “provide evidence-informed alcohol education and prevention activities and programs,” according to Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s Vice Chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations.

 The Board awarded grants to 24 Pennsylvania colleges and universities, including Pitt, which will use the grant to fund Panther Bridge: Campus and Community Connections to Address Dangerous and Underage Drinking. Panther Bridge is a new project where several programs will target prevention of unlawful alcohol consumption and unhealthy drinking habits.

Resident Assistants will be a part of the Panther Bridge through new training modules that Pitt Police, Pitt’s Student Health Service and Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations formulated. Pitt will base the creation of these modules off the Core Alcohol & Drug Survey results, a survey Pitt will ask undergraduate students to take this fall. The results of the survey will help the University analyze campus-wide usage rates and student perceptions of alcohol and drugs.

“What we have learned, and what the research supports, is that no one program or service addresses all concerns and all students, but rather a varied, yet comprehensive agenda of prevention strategies appears to be more effective,” said Marian Vanek, Pitt’s Director of Student Health Services, in an email.

In 2013, the most recent year for which data exists, Pitt Police made 153 arrests for liquor law violations and 290 disciplinary referrals, according to the 2014 Campus Crime Statistics report. For comparison in that same year, Temple University took disciplinary action against 295 for liquor law violations and made 14 arrests, according to its security report, and West Virginia University made 551 arrests and 1501 disciplinary referrals.

Panther Bridge will focus on alcohol education, engaging students and enforcing alcohol policies, Supowitz said. Unlike Pitt’s previous program, The Tipping Point, Panther Bridge will be wider in breadth. Included in this is increased activity of the Pitt Police Impact Details. Impact officers will monitor parties if any disrupt the neighborhood, said Officer Guy Johnson, Pitt Police Community Relations Officer.

“Impact is stepping up patrols throughout Oakland at busy times like weekends,” Johnson said. “Most of them will walk the streets.”

Panther Bridge will introduce a campaign known as Buzzkill: Serve Under 21 and the Party’s Over to Pitt’s campus, which the Drug Free Alliance developed. Buzzkill aims to prevent underage drinking by educating the community on the consequences of hosting a party with alcohol and serving underage guests.

The Oakland community itself will be involved in Panther Bridge, as Be a Good Neighbor Block Parties are expanded.

These parties “bring together off-campus students with long-term residents from specific Oakland neighborhoods in a casual and fun setting,” Supowitz said. “Connecting community members and students has a positive impact on reducing hazardous alcohol consumption, as well as the disruptions that often coincide with high-risk drinking.”

Pitt is hoping to increase usage of PantherTRAC, a text-message based technology created at Pitt’s School of Medicine, which serves as a binge-drinking prevention program.

According to Vanek, PantherTRAC “uses technology allowing students to self-monitor their drinking intentions and behaviors and assists in goal-setting.”

“Research supports the value of these programs, indicating that they can have a positive impact and will assist us in meeting our goals and objectives,” Vanek said. “We continue to evaluate improvements in technologies and prevention strategies and apply best practice to our initiatives.”

Madison Scull, an incoming Pitt freshman who plans to double major in Chinese and philosophy, was skeptical about the overall effectiveness of Panther Bridge.

“Many of these programs are a joke in high schools across the country,” Scull said. “That said, it is comforting to know that our University cares about our wellbeing to the extent that they are providing us services beyond high schools saying ‘hey guys, drinking is bad for you’.”

Scull also feels reassured by the variation of programs provided in Panther Bridge.

“I think the University’s efforts in this area will have some degree of impact on every student, if for no other reason than the program being so extensive now,” Scull said.

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