Members of UChoose and the recovery community spoke with Student Government Thursday about the declining drug and alcohol consumption on campus.
Opening the meeting, Jennifer Matzke, assistant dean of students, shared findings from student surveys, including the College Student Health Survey, showing the trends in alcohol consumption on campus.
SCSU has participated in the annual College Student Health survey since 2005. The first year on board, the survey results showed that 58.6 percent of students reported having five or more drinks in the last two weeks, Matzke said.
“That’s a problem and it creates an unhealthy environment for our students,” Matzke said. “In 2005, calling St. Cloud a party school was accurate.”
She explained that the high consumption rates caused problems for the community. If students weren’t on campus, she said the university “didn’t care.”
In turn, the St. Cloud Police Department and the city were hesitant to develop working relationships with the university, she said.
“I was worried about student health,” she said.
A graph on the screen above the student government body showed two lines. One seemed to be fairly steady, while the other showed a deep decline.
In 2014, 27.8 percent of St. Cloud State students reported taking part in high-risk drinking, Matzke said. The steady line on the screen showed the national average, 36.1 percent.
“We should have national attention for this,” she said.
With the decline in high-risk drinking, UChoose student assessment data shows that there were 1,245 minor consumption citations given out in fiscal year 2011, decreasing to a total of 514 in fiscal year 2014.
Part of this decline comes from university initiatives and programs like UChoose, the Diversions program and IMPACT.
UChoose and IMPACT have taught over 1,300 classes combined, according to UChoose. Matzke said she realizes that students don’t necessarily choose an alcohol-free class over a party, and classes reflect that realization. Instead of telling students to stay away from drugs and alcohol, classes teach students safe drinking strategies, she explained.
UChoose helps to shine light on social norms, and ways to estimate blood alcohol levels and the overall cost of drinking.
Online assessments, e-Chug for alcohol and e-Toke for marijuana, are available through UChoose’s website to help provide students with information.
With UChoose and IMPACT, the Diversions program was put together in 2010. Partnering with the city of St. Cloud, SCSU began offering an alternative to students who received a minor consumption citation.
Since a minor consumption citation is a payable offense, people who received a minor could pay the fine and be on their way.
Matzke said there were a high number of repeat offenders and that it took a toll on the police department’s resources.
Introducing the program helped take the edge off, but ultimately led to fewer repeat offenders.
Students that complete the Diversion program get their citation dismissed. After completion of the program, there are check-ups at different points in time, including at 90 days. Matzke said the program saw a 50 percent reduction in repeat offenders at the 90-day follow up.
Moving through the presentation, Matzke went through a number of slides showing awards that UChoose won through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU).
“Other MnSCU systems look to us,” Matzke said, about campus drug and alcohol prevention programs.
SCSU looked into what other campuses were doing around drug and alcohol prevention programs, including Augsburg College. Tailoring the program to campus, SCSU implemented residential recovery communities after seeing a need for an affordable option, Matzke said.
There are about 150 collegiate recovery communities in the US, and about 40 percent of students who drop out of school attribute it to drugs and alcohol, Matzke said. Almost half of students heading off to college (43 percent) look for a university with a recovery community.
“There’s definitely a need for this support,” she said. “We have a safe environment where your sobriety can be protected.”
To support these programs, there’s nearly $150,000 worth of grants coming in, $50,000 being from St. Cloud State, Matzke said.
Matzke turned over the podium to a student who’s in the recovery community on campus. Valentin Pena, an SCSU student, said, “We strive to be a close-knit community.” He explained that the recovery community gives men and women on campus a safe environment, away from temptation.
“We want to move forward to break the stigma,” he said, about college students feeling the need to drink, because they’re away at school.
“You don’t need alcohol to have fun in college,” he said. “I’m overwhelmingly grateful for the recovery community.” He thanked the student government body and gave the podium over to another student sharing in the recovery community.
“When I thought of SCSU, I thought of using,” said Jennifer Mckenzie. Mckenzie came to St. Cloud in 2010 for college. When she got here, she said all she wanted to do was go to class and party.
Having achieved her goal, she said she had a hard time maintaining friendships, because of her drinking habits. She switched her major about four times during her time at college and ended up taking a year off for treatment, she said.
Now back in school, Mckenzie has stayed away from drugs and alcohol, while also seeing her grades improve, she said.
“I feel like everything happened for a reason,” she said. “It’s been a life-changing experience.”