The University of Wisconsin is known for many things. Among the pillars of Madison’s reputation are high standards of academia, Bucky Badger and — of course — alcohol.
There is no doubt drinking has been a defining aspect of the university experience for the better part of a century, even for those who choose not to imbibe. In the mere weeks since classes have started this fall, binge-drinking has far surpassed the expected spike of alcohol-related activity associated with the beginning of the new academic year.
Within the last three weeks, drunken antics have sent ten students to detox and a large amount of students have been issued drinking tickets. Most of the alcohol-related issues have been linked to a disgusting amount of binge drinking — the blood alcohol content of one student reached .37, a potentially deadly level.
While the university has taken steps in recent years to quietly deal with the school’s party reputation, its response to outrageous and rampant alcohol abuse has been sluggish at best. If UW wishes to show its support for student health and well-being, it will need to take a firm stance on an issue that has been swept under the rug for far too long.
It is no secret that this university has had an alcoholic reputation for several decades. According to the Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment Survey and the Harvard School of Public Health, the rate of binge-drinking at UW has been staggering since 1994. The prevalence of drinking reached its lowest point in 2009, when approximately 51 percent of students admitted to binge-drinking, before skyrocketing to a peak in 2012, when roughly 67 percent of students admitted to binge-drinking. These statistics are well over the average for large, public colleges, which sits at 50.4 percent. In addition, according to United Health Foundation, the state of Wisconsin maintains the highest binge-drinking rate in the nation, as of 2012, and has held this first-place ranking for 14 years.
This fall the university took steps to address the overall occurrence of binge-drinking by requiring incoming freshman to participate in Alcohol Edu — an online alcohol education program aimed at teaching students how to drink responsibly. This isn’t the first educational initiative the university has undertaken in an effort to curb alcohol consumption. In late 2011 UW began requiring the majority of students who receive drinking citations to attend a class on the possible risks of alcohol abuse — a class that the smaller, less populous and less alcohol abusive University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has required for more than a decade.
University administrators aren’t the only people interested in addressing the dangerous consequences of UW’s drinking culture. The Responsible Action bill under consideration in the state legislature would grant immunity from all forms of disciplinary action to intoxicated underage drinkers who seek emergency help for themselves or others. This bill was created and lobbied for by the Associated Students of Madison Legislative Affairs committee and later introduced by Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. Wisconsin is the last of the states with Big Ten universities to enact a Responsible Action measure, and more than 200 schools nation-wide have had some form of this law for years.
It is clear that while the school may be taking steps in the right direction, the actions made by the university are long overdue.
Alcohol has been a defining aspect of the Wisconsin Experience for quite some time, despite the destructive and potentially abusive impact drinking has on students. The university administration has yet to formally comment on the recent alcoholic antics of students and has yet to offer solutions to out-of-control consumption. Its response to this issue has been overdue and sluggish.
The UW administration has an obligation to look after the health and well-being of the student population, and must live up to this obligation by implementing decisive measures to reduce binge-drinking on campus.
Madeline Sweitzer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman majoring in political science and journalism.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this column stated that “Within the last three weeks, drunken antics have sent ten students to detox and a large amount of students have been issued drinking tickets, including the entirety of present students of the 7A floor of Sellery Residence Hall.” This information was not confirmed, and Sellery residents and staff have made it clear that this is not the case. Our apologies to those who were negatively impacted by this mistake.