UW-L combats risky drinking behavior

Published On: Feb 21 2013 06:07:36 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 22 2013 08:57:36 AM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

There have been a string of alcohol-related deaths in the La Crosse community over recent years, many of them University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students.

UW-L Wellness Coordinator Jason Bertrand will be the first to say there’s a serious problem. He’s in charge of educating students about responsible drinking behavior.

He said sometimes he just can't help but worry.

"Yeah, I do. I worry a lot of times. I worry about our river drownings. I worry about certain students that I meet with," said Bertrand.

He gets particularly worried when he looks at the results of surveys UW-L students take about their drinking behavior.

“I wouldn't say they're getting better, I'd say they're kind of staying very similar to what they've been in the past years. Actually, the data that I just got from a different survey that was done at the university was pretty alarming in terms of binge drinking," said Bertrand.

That's a concern the university is addressing as soon as students step on campus.

When freshmen register for classes, they're all required to come to an event where the university can have a frank, realistic discussion with them about alcohol.

UW-L sophomore Kyle Malin said what he learned in that program still sticks with him.

"Knowing what you're going to do, maybe knowing how you're going to get home later, things like that, sometimes people don't always think about that and then kind of get into trouble later on," said Malin.

Molly Kroseberg is a student leader in her dorm, where she helped organize an event this year educating residents about the dangers of risky drinking behavior.

"Definitely in the first year, I think they're the most effective because they may not realize how quickly things can happen," said Kroseberg.

Although the surveys show students' risky alcohol use isn't getting better, Bertrand said he has hope the message of responsible drinking behavior will eventually get through.

“There's really a chance to change the culture in this community, as well as at this institution. I think you're able to see that slowly happen," said Bertrand.

Bertrand also does in-class presentations about responsible drinking behavior, as well as one-on-one interventions with students whose drinking is getting them into trouble.

He said Residence Life spends $10,000-$20,000 a year on fun alcohol-free events for students on weekends.

One of the areas Bertrand said he'd like to see the university expand is peer education.

He said research shows hearing from other students about their own experiences has proven to be an effective strategy.