Study: Diversity reduces problem drinking

Binge-drinking rates among high-risk drinkers — students who are white, male and underage — are significantly lower on college campuses with larger proportions of minority, female and older students, according to a recent study by Harvard University researchers. The study showed that greater diversity on campus might significantly decrease the chance that incoming freshmen become binge drinkers. The study defines binge drinking as five or more drinks in a row sometime in the last two weeks for males and four or more for women. It is not a conclusion everyone finds credible, though. “I wouldn’t say there was a difference when it comes to race and drinking,” said Nathan Castillo a Chicano senior at Colorado State University. “College kids going out are going to drink, regardless of race.” According to the report, though, incoming white freshmen, including those who binge drank in high school, were less likely to start binge drinking in college if their university had higher proportions of black, Latino, Asian and older students. “The results may shed light on why fraternities, sororities and freshman dorms have particularly high binge-drinking rates and account for a disproportionate share of alcohol problems on campuses,” wrote Henry Wechsler, the principal investigator of the study and director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health, in an article released with the study. “These social and living arrangements tend to group higher-risk drinkers together, with little chance of their intermingling with those who drink less heavily.” The study used data from 52,312 college students at 114 predominantly white colleges from the 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2001 College Alcohol Study. “Research has shown that young, white males are the most at-risk population for binge drinking problems,” said Pam McCracken, director of University Health Services at CSU. “It’s a combination of several factors, including being away from home and media involvement. These kids think this kind of behavior is a rite of passage, something that’s expected of them.” CSU minority enrollment, excluding international students, is about 12 percent of the total student population. For undergraduates, the fall 2003 enrollment numbers break down this way: 14,075 white students, 1,090 Latino students, 421 Asian-American students, 338 black students and 203 American Indian students. “It’s hard to believe that race has anything to do with it,” said Arthur Garcia, a Mexican-American business senior. “Lots of students drink, regardless of race.” McCracken, who is familiar with the new Harvard study, said the definition of binge drinking in the study was problematic. “What does five drinks in a row mean? Five shots one after the other or five beers in five hours?” McCracken asked. She said although CSU does have problems related to alcohol, she felt the majority of CSU students were moderate and responsible drinkers. The five-drink measurement is common in alcohol studies across the country, according to the study. “Five or more drinks as measurement of problem drinking is questionable to me,” Castillo said. Garcia and Castillo said there are some small differences in the way different races party.”Personally, what I’ve noticed is that when I go to parties that are predominantly white it’s just a lot of people standing around drinking beer from kegs,” Castillo said. Parties that are mostly minorities have more things going on such as dancing, he said. Andrew Johnson, a sophomore, is a resident assistant at Corbett Hall. He said binge drinking is a problem in his residence hall among young, white males. “Some people go out every night of the week,” Johnson said, “and it’s not hard for people who wouldn’t usually drink to get roped into it.”