SPOKANE — Washington State University will take new steps to try to reduce binge drinking and drug use by students, including scheduling more Friday morning classes and notifying parents if an underage student is caught drinking or using drugs, university officials announced Monday.
The Pullman-based school started examining ways to address drug and alcohol use by students after a student died of alcohol poisoning in October.
Among the proposed changes, WSU officials will notify parents the first time an underage student violates alcohol and drug policies.
"Robust research shows that parents can have a significant influence on their children's drinking habits," said Melynda Huskey, WSU dean of students. "Rather than using parental notification as a scare tactic, we view it as an opportunity to involve parents in the process of reducing harm."
WSU also plans to seek approval from the Faculty Senate to schedule more classes on Friday mornings to combat alcohol-fueled, three-day weekends.
A 2007 study by the University of Missouri found that students were more likely to binge on Thursday nights if they didn't have classes on Friday.
"If something as simple as the timing of a student's academic classes will help prevent excessive drinking behavior, then it's a good science-based practice to implement," said Dr. Bruce Wright, executive director of WSU's Health and Wellness Services.
Wright chaired a task force convened by WSU President Elson S. Floyd after the student died last October. The task force, made up of faculty, staff, students and community representatives, presented recommendations to reduce drug and alcohol abuse on campus.
Other changes to be implemented include:
• Adding more alcohol-free floors to residence halls.
• Requiring alcohol screening for at-risk students and providing intervention if necessary.
• Teaching students how to recognize signs of alcohol poisoning and how to intervene.
The school is also considering a proposal to gradually phase out fraternity freshman housing.
"We know from multiple national studies and local data that freshmen are more likely to experience alcohol-related harm than other students and that freshmen fraternity members are in the highest risk category," Wright said. "The idea is to eventually have all freshmen living in the residence halls where trained personnel are on hand 24/7."
WSU has paired with Pullman Regional Hospital to ensure that students seen at the emergency room are screened for substance-abuse problems. Emergency room staff will work with WSU's Health and Wellness clinic to intervene and provide help.
Washington State has also become one of more than 60 universities to implement the Red Watch Band program. Students will be given inexpensive watches after they complete a training program on how to respond to signs of alcohol-related emergencies. Developed by Stony Brook University, the program is designed to help students look out for each other.
"We're really emphasizing the concept of Cougs looking out for Cougs," Wright said.