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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Cissy Petty Takes SLU Parents on Crazy Trip Through Time, Logic

Most of our students do not abuse alcohol or drugs. Yet every student is affected by this problem. Just one student in a residence hall who drinks too much, too often, ruins the atmosphere for everyone. Just one student who comes to class with a hangover, unprepared at best, belligerent at worst, ruins the climate for learning. If your student is home when you receive this letter, please share it. Use this letter as a jump-start to conversation. Let your student know what to expect when the spring semester begins.

Quite the cliffhanger--and exactly how Dean Petty ends her most recent letter to parents about alcohol and drug abuse on campus. DP (not to be confused with m1 and Stic.man) has made it a point to keep parents constantly updated through letters with the news that while there is no drug or alcochol problem on campus, she is doing everything in her power to solve it.

How? Simple: "We believe that the time to take a revolutionary multi-pronged approach to our health and wellness programming is upon us." That's why SLU's Student Life division is officially endorsing and affiliating with the Church of Scientology. Okay, not really. But what does this mean? For that, we'll have to play the waiting game. Dean Petty's not about to just divulge her winning strategy for beating our very minor, but nonetheless troubling, drug and alcohol problems.

In fact, most of the letter is spent, in the true fashion of all bad sequels, rehashing the originals. In fact, nearly a page worth of material (five and one-half inches of a printed page) of the three page letter consists of Marcia revisiting some quotes from a highly regarded figure on the matter: herself. Have a look-see:

In July 1999, for example, I wrote to parents:

“Since my arrival a year ago, I have been discouraged most by the level of disrespect students show toward themselves, their classmates, and our campus as a result of alcohol abuse. Now, let’s be clear: alcohol abuse among college students is a national problem. Alcohol on college campuses is a factor in 40 percent of all academic problems and 28 percent of all drop-outs, according to a national survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. Each year, college students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol (mostly beer). This is more than they spend on books, soda, coffee, juice and milk combined. [Editor's Note: If you find out where to get beer that is cheaper than soda, coffee, juice, and milk, do let us know.] On a typical campus, the average amount a student spends on alcohol is $466 a year [Editor's Note: Less than many typical SLU students spend on books in a single semester].

“Alcohol abuse contradicts respect…. The reality that some students drink to excess, harming themselves, disrupting the lives of their friends, showing disrespect to their teachers and our neighbors, is true
[Editor's Note: It's true. Haven't you ever attended an event hosted by Dan Sullivan?].”

and

That was in 1999. We had already launched the Alcohol Initiative and had directed a group of faculty, staff and students to propose ways we could combat the national trends at a local, campus level.

In January 2000, I began my letter by talking about the Sunday evening sessions at my house, called “That’s Life.” Here’s what I said then:

“I just asked them to share what was on their minds and in their hearts. Week after week, they raised their concerns and fears regarding alcohol abuse. Our students worry a lot about losing a friend to alcohol poisoning or in an alcohol-related traffic accident…. I invite you to help us change student drinking patterns…. Partner with us to teach your child to enjoy college in responsible, trustworthy ways.”

and

Later that year, I quoted a passage from author James Belasco:

“It's not going to be as easy as it sounds. Empowering change is difficult. I'd be lying to you if I told you it was easy. You know it isn't easy and I know it isn't. But not only is it possible--it's absolutely essential."

and

Fast forward to summer 2001. I reported:

“Another idea we had over two years ago…is new ways to decrease high-risk behaviors associated with alcohol consumption. We began in 1999 with a grant from New York State to measure the norms of alcohol use among our students as well, importantly, as the perceptions of alcohol use among our students…. Our efforts at a multi-aspect program, including increased campus weekend events and heightened communications, have resulted in a 75 percent decrease in high-risk incidents from fall (sic) 1999 compared to spring (sic) 2001.”


So aside from Dean Petty's difficulties with structuring a letter, everything is fine. After all, there has been "a 75 percent decrease in high-risk incidents from fall (sic) 1999 compared to spring (sic) 2001." And, as Dean Petty says, "We had made progress." But wait--what's this? "Alcohol abuse has grown worse in the past year and we counsel more students who are abusing marijuana, illegal and prescription drugs."

Oh.

But overall, things are still getting better, no? "At a public forum during the week we were searching for Adam Falcon, one student stood before the president, the chief of police, our director of security, Dean Cornwell and me and said, 'We are going to drink irresponsibly. It’s your job to keep us from getting hurt.'"

Well, maybe not.

What can't help, of course, is the SLU administration's Bush-like abstinence-only attitude towards the use of marijuana and underage drinking. Rather than accepting the fact that students will drink under age and use marijuana--a substance far less harmful than alcohol--and encouraging moderation and safety, these substances are instead given the alluring label of increasingly forbidden fruit.

Perhaps if Dean Petty spent half the time she wastes on binge-drinking greeks, and the harmless stoners that frequent the Java barn on weekends, on instead prosecuting sexual assault cases (as opposed to simply suggesting assault victims consider "studying abroad"), the campus might actually be a safer place. Hell, with the other half of the time, perhaps she could help launch a campus-wide literacy campaign for our swaths of prep school kids and fortunate sons, or dump some cash into demonstrating how to properly wear one's shirt collar.

[Editor's Note: One thing Petty has made progress on is the proper use of ellipses. Send her a congratulatory email at mpetty@stlawu.edu.]

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