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The Carletonian

Drug and Alcohol taskforce holds back on “specific goals”

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A grant of about $100,000 per year over the next four to five years was recently given to Carleton to address the college’s rates of underage drinking among persons age 18-20 and marijuana use among persons age 18-25. As part of the grant initiative, a new group, comprised of Carleton students, faculty, staff, and community leaders from Northfield, has formed called the Carleton Coalition on Alcohol and Marijuana.

According to Patrick Gordon, Project Coordinator for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, there are no specific goals of the grant that have been laid out yet, as the process is still in an early planning phase.

“I think we’re trying to hold back on any super specific goals,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure that we’ve looked at all of our data … and have the most informed perspective before we move forward,” leading to the widely promoted recent survey meant to gauge student perceptions.

Melanie Taub, senior and Student Wellness Advocate (SWA), said she too has no concrete expectations of the outcome of the grant, but would like to see a reduction in high risk drinking.

“Part of the reason we got this grant is because … we were identified as a school that has high rates of binge drinking and drug use, percentage wise, so I think there are things we can improve upon,” Taub said. “It’s all about developing a healthy relationship, whether you choose to drink or don’t choose to drink.”

Sarah Weiler, Area Director and Co-Coordinator of the SWA program, said she is concerned about chronic binge drinking on campus.

“There’s definitely an unfortunate norm around binge drinking,” Weiler said. “I think that that’s seen as a very commonplace thing, in some cases a very OK thing, and I think that in some ways that produces a danger to our students.”

“My personal feeling is alcohol and marijuana, they’re both gateway drugs to stronger drugs, and that’s my concern,” said Wayne Eisenhuth, Director of Security Services. “I don’t want to see anybody go through an addiction problem.”

According to Taub, depending on what problems are identified, students might not see any drastic changes.

“I don’t know that there will be major changes,” Taub said. “I think it’s all about what we find. We’re in a really rudimentary phase right now.”

Eisenhuth agreed, saying “we haven’t really got into the meat and potatoes of grant.”

Weiler said that she would like to see changes that discourage high-risk drinking, but are not too strict as to deter students from asking authority figures for help if one of their peers is in trouble.

“Ingrained in [the] drinking culture is also a sense of caring … and I think that’s something that we have going for us,” Weiler said. “I’m really hoping that some of the assessment and evaluation that comes from the grant will help us find that fine line between having policies that really do discourage binge drinking, while also not being so putative as to stop people from taking care of each other.”

According to Gordon, the process used by Carleton to implement this grant is unique from any past effort because it involves a year-long planning phase in which the college can gather and analyze data about students’ perceptions of alcohol and marijuana.

“I think it’s the first time that Carleton’s ever really taken the time to have a formal, strategic planning process,” Gordon said. “I think we’ve always dealt with things reactively … whereas this year we’re taking an entire year to understand [our problems] and have really evidence-based practices and data-driven, informed decisions.”

According to Gordon, whose position was created through the grant, his job is to implement the grant, but his specific duties will change as programming progresses and further needs are identified.

“I feel like my job could become anything,” Gordon said. “Right now I feel like it’s mainly just to … bring everybody to the table to have the conversation around alcohol and marijuana, and ensure that all perspectives are heard and that we make informed decisions.”

According to Gordon, Carleton being chosen for this grant does not mean that it is an “at risk” school, but only that Carleton’s rates of substance abuse are higher than the 40 other schools who participated in Minnesota’s College Student Health Survey. Additionally, Gordon said, Carleton has less existing resources than the other schools to deal with alcohol and drug related issues, which also factored in to the college being selected.

“We had higher substance abuse rates and we didn’t have staff and resources to work on issues,” said Gordan. “Could that mean risk? It could, but it also could mean higher rates for some other reason, and we just need to understand why we have higher rates than other schools.”

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