The Pilot Editorial - Is glass half full, or half empty?

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

The president's task force on alcohol issues at Buena Vista University seems to have a realistic grasp on the situation on campus, and we look forward to its recommendations and the eventual impact they may have on the level of abuse drinking and on public perception.

In the same breath, this group admits that they find a drinking problem on the campus, in the community, and among college-age people in general, but also stresses that young people at BVU don't deserve a boozing reputation.

That isn't a contradiction in terms.

Before real progress can be achieved against binge drinking, something has do be done about the public perception that college campuses are all about how much one can drink. It tends to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

BVU has avoided some of the problems like alcohol poisoning deaths that have happened at other schools in the state, but the task force does find that virtually every serious problem or crime that has been seen on campus has been related to alcohol in some way. That makes it an issue for the community.

The task force also notes that younger people in town sometimes look to the college students for their lifestyle cues. That puts a certain responsibility on a young adult, whether he or she wants it or not. Again, perception is critical as young minds are shaped to look ahead to college - as a time to explore and learn, or a time to get wasted as much as possible and slide by.

The task force notes that it is easy for the public to judge based on the actions of a few drunken students, and they are right to note that the majority is more mature than that, and deserve to have their stories told too.

A hugely-telling statistic comes from a social norms survey funded by Iowa State University. According to a task force member, it shows that 58 percent of students on the BVU main campus in Storm Lake say they consume five or less alcoholic drinks in a week, or none at all.

That is good news, but it would be unwise to miss the fact that this means that 42 percent of all the students drink considerable amounts in a normal week, and may be near or beyond the problem drinking stage.

The task force seems to grasp both the fact that we have a problem to admit and address, and the need to keep in perspective that most students are responsible. We wish them luck in their work, and hope the other Iowa campuses will take note.