Parents as Partners: Changing the Drinking Culture at Marquette

As a parent of a Marquette student, you most likely have heard about the culture of drinking on campus from your student, and/or from Marquette University directly.  It is a topic that is addressed during Family Orientation each fall, via the Dean’s Letter sent each summer and through AlcoholEdu for parents.

Marquette University certainly is not alone in experiencing challenges related to college students’ high-risk drinking.  Marquette recognizes that high-risk drinking has wide implications on the campus community and the university has dedicated considerable resources to addressing the topic and supporting students who choose not to drink or drink in responsible ways.

It is common to see an increase in high-risk drinking during the middle of the fall semester as students celebrate Halloween and begin to experience stress of mid-terms and looming final exams.  As Halloween weekend approaches, this is a prime time for parents to have a conversation with their students about their plans for the weekend and to reinforce abstaining from drinking or low-risk drinking.

National studies have shown that parents have a key influence on how often their students engage in risky behavior, including alcohol use.  In fact, in many instances parents have a greater influence on their students’ behavior than a university or college does.  To provide parents with information that may be helpful to them as they consider how to talk about alcohol use with their student, the Parent Program consulted with a campus expert on the alcohol culture, Sara Johnson, coordinator for alcohol programs for the Division of Student Affairs.  According to Johnson, “Marquette statistics mirror that of national statistics regarding an increase in the number of abstainers coming to college.  In the fall of 2012, 63 percent of first-year students identified as abstainers; unfortunately, by mid-semester, this number had decreased to approximately 54 percent.  We know that students experience increased pressure to drink when they start college.  However, we also know that nearly 3 out of 4 Marquette students consume alcohol less than once per week, if at all.  But even with that reality, 50 percent of our students do report feeling pressure to drink.”

So how does Marquette challenge the drinking culture?  Each summer, first-year students are required to complete two modules of AlcoholEdu, an online educational tool regarding alcohol use, and to attend a mandatory program during Orientation that addresses the alcohol culture at Marquette.  The university offers a variety of entertainment and social options both on and off campus for students who do not drink, or who drink in moderate or low-risk ways.  There are more than 270 registered student organizations and dozens of Late Night Marquette activities that do not include alcohol.  In addition, many students take advantage of the vibrant arts, music, and social scene in the city of Milwaukee. 

In order to support students who do not drink, or drink in low-risk ways, Marquette has implemented a number of prevention and wellness initiatives.  These include implementing a new Good Samaritan Policy to ease any fear of reporting concerns, bystander intervention peer-to-peer trainings, and social norming efforts aimed at challenging persistent beliefs and perceptions.  In addition to these efforts, the university works collaboratively with the Milwaukee Police Department District 3 Community Prosecution Unit to address high-risk drinking and drug use, and to manage the environment around Marquette to be safe and welcoming to students living off-campus. 

In addition to supporting students who do not drink, or do so in low-risk ways, Marquette holds students accountable for violations of the alcohol policy. In the 2012 calendar year, the University received 722 referrals to the conduct system, for alcohol-related incidents in the residence halls alone.  Students found responsible for violating the alcohol policy in the Student Code of Conduct face consequences including educational outcomes, fines, warnings, probation and suspension.  In cases in which students are placed on University Probation, or have repeated alcohol-related violations, parents are notified of the University’s response. 

Many of our statistical trackers indicate that trends are moving in the right direction.  Since the implementation of prevention and wellness efforts, we have seen a gradual decrease in both frequency and amount of alcohol use on campus.  However, high-risk alcohol use continues to be a challenge for the campus community.

So how can parents have a conversation with your student about making low-risk choices regarding alcohol?  It may help to focus on the big picture first. Parents can ask students about what is going well for him/her in all aspects of his or her life.  Ask about their goals and aspirations, and if their daily lifestyle is contributing to their goals.  Many students who are drinking too much and/or too often, will see a decline in grades, and/or may not be satisfied with the quality or variety of their friendships.

Many students may tell parents that “this is just what college students do”, and parents may hear students express resignation to the drinking culture.  Parents have the ability to call students to a higher thought process by challenging them to consider “what if” it didn’t have to be that way.  What might their daily life be like if they drank less often or not at all?  Who else might they meet, or how else might they spend their time? 

Likewise, students who choose not to drink, or drink in low-risk ways, also need parental support.  More than 6,000 Marquette students, or 75 percent of the student body, drink once per week or less. Still, the dominant culture and student perceptions of Marquette’s campus on the weekends may make this decision challenging at times, and encouragement from a parent is always appreciated by students.

To learn more about alcohol and college students, parents are invited to take the AlcoholEdu for College Parents. The brief course will be open the entire academic year, and parents may access it by using the Login ID P239105PARENT.  Also, for parents who are concerned about their students’ drinking, the Counseling Center is a great resource.  Staff there are trained not only to talk to students about their alcohol use, but also to talk with parents about how to encourage their students to use campus resources to the full extent.  The Marquette Parents Program encourages all parents to make alcohol and the drinking culture at Marquette a part of ongoing conversations with your student.

Marquette Parent Program

Julie Murphy, Assistant Dean for New Student and Family Programs


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