seeking answers

By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – The University of Mississippi’s substance abuse problems and its new initiatives to deal with them have been fresh fodder for headlines, blogs and coffee shop conversation the past two weeks.
Ole Miss announced Monday the formation of a task force and stricter rules to combat alcohol and substance abuse by students. But news stories across the country show Ole Miss and its hometown Oxford constitute just one of hundreds of college communities facing such challenges.
One is LaCrosse, Wis., home to a University of Wisconsin campus and two other institutions of higher learning. Since 1997, eight young men have been found dead in its rivers, after a night of heavy drinking.
City and university officials have proposed remedies such as volunteer patrols, motion-activated lights and fences along the riverfronts.
“I’m not sure anything we do can prevent a future tragedy,” LaCrosse Mayor Mark Johnsrud said.
Some colleges, however, have made headway. The University of Rhode Island for three years running was rated the nation’s No. 1 party school by the Princeton Review. URI has taken action, such as funding extra off-campus patrols, lobbying for mandatory safe-serve bartender training and holding students accountable for off-campus behavior.
As a result, between 2004 and 2005 fall semesters, police in one adjoining town reported 19 percent fewer incidents involving URI students.
California’s Stanford University is another that has made inroads.
“We decided to be proactive and see what were the best prevention and early intervention strategies,” Stanford drug and alcohol educator Ralph Castro said. “We have not had any serious tragedies … We’ve definitely learned from other schools’ experiences”
Stanford has a policy that requires students with serious alcohol problems to leave school, seek professional intervention and, upon return to campus, to attend AA meetings.

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at 216-1069 or

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