7 October 2005 Surprised by campus sobriety

York Daily Record, York, Penn.

By Michele Canty

Friday, October 7, 2005

York College students drink much less than people think, and even less than they think. The drunken crowd egging on someone chugging beer after beer and the group of students stumbling down the street from one drink too many is a reality for some students, but theyre a minority on the local campus and on most college campuses.

However, because students believe everyone is doing it, they may engage in this risky behavior, including drinking, using drugs or having unprotected sex, said Dr. H. Wes Perkins, a New York college professor who has studied college students and drinking for more than 20 years.

Instead of trying to scare students into not drinking, Perkins suggests telling them the truth about alcohol use on campuses, which could empower them to make different decisions.

For more than an hour, Perkins, a sociology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, talked to about 100 York College students Thursday evening about how misperceptions about alcohol have become the reality on campuses across the country.

When surveyed, college students believed their peers drank more in one sitting than they actually did, Perkins said. In a recent study that polled more than 70,000 students, about 71 percent overestimated how much their peers drink.

The misperceptions were not limited to college students. When high school students were asked about how many of their peers drank, most said more than 75 percent. Many didnt drink themselves and were surprised to find out many of their peers didnt either.

Perkins said students drink, but not as many engage in the heavy drinking depicted in movies. Correcting these misperceptions is a better way to tackle alcohol problems on campuses, he said.

Traditional approaches, such as educating students about what alcohol does to the body or telling them the horrors of drinking, have done little to bring down abuse rates, he said.

As he talked, students sometimes giggled, but many shook their heads in agreement.

They saw what the professor said illustrated at local parties. For the most part, there are a few really drunken people, but theyre not the whole party, some said after the lecture.

Also, students said their peers put the brakes on keg parties and other gatherings that could include underage drinking after a recent crackdown by York City Police. Since many students were charged and received hefty fines, people have been less interested in drinking parties, they said.

Before Perkins talk, students walked past posters touting how little York College students drink and use drugs, shrugging them off with a yeah right attitude.

Afterward, students said theyre ready to believe them.

I thought (his talk) was eye-opening, said junior Adrienne Freeland, 20.

Her friend, senior Allison Pyle, 21, agreed.

The statistics were unexpected. I thought a lot more people drank a lot, the 21-year-old said.

Another student, Amanda Rendell, 21, added, It was nice not to be preached at for once. He told us things that really make sense.