Long­time Col­lege Drink­ing Cul­ture Makes Change Dif­fi­cult

Riverbank News - - NEIGBORHOOD VALUES -

MENOMONIE, Wis. — Each time Nate Kirk­man works with col­lege stu­dents to ad­dress al­co­hol-re­lated prob­lems, he thinks about the pos­si­ble ram­i­fi­ca­tions of their be­hav­ior.

He re­calls the count­less un­der­age drink­ing ci­ta­tions and drunken driv­ing in­stances he has learned of as as­sis­tant dean of stu­dents at UWStout.

He re­mem­bers cases of stu­dents so drunk they wan­dered into the wrong homes, or those so ine­bri­ated they pass out and spend the night out­doors wher­ever they hap­pen to col­lapse in a booze-fu­eled haze.

He re­vis­its re­ported sex­ual as­saults, van­dal­ism, fights and other hap­pen­ings that oc­curred be­cause those in­volved had drank way too much al­co­hol.

And he en­vi­sions the worst days of his job, when he learned stu­dents had died be­cause of ex­ces­sive al­co­hol use. Seven UW-Stout stu­dents have done so in the past decade.

“Those deaths have a car­ry­over ef­fect when you work with stu­dents af­ter­ward,” Kirk­man said. “You know what the po­ten­tial out­come of them con­sum­ing too much al­co­hol could be. It makes you fear­ful of the next big mis­take and what that means for ev­ery­one in­volved.”

Kirk­man’s fears were re­newed ear­lier last month when he learned that po­lice is­sued 116 al­co­hol-re­lated ci­ta­tions, in­clud­ing 45 for un­der­age drink­ing and 23 for fake IDs, to pa­trons at the Re­hab tav­ern in down­town Menomonie. That oc­cur­rence is an ex­am­ple of on­go­ing prob­lem drink­ing by UW-Stout stu­dents de­spite con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to curb that be­hav­ior, he said.

The Leader-Tele­gram re­ports that the is­suance of so many ci­ta­tions at Re­hab that night has prompted re­newed dis­cus­sion at UWStout and else­where in the Menomonie com­mu­nity about the need to ad­dress un­der­age, high-risk drink­ing in par­tic­u­lar and al­co­hol abuse in gen­eral.

In a blog posted April 19, univer­sity Chan­cel­lor Bob Meyer called so many ci­ta­tions at the tav­ern “re­volt­ing” and said he was dis­ap­pointed to learn of them. He sub­se­quently told the Leader-Tele­gram the un­der­age ci­ta­tions at Re­hab were “a wake-up call” sig­ni­fy­ing more work is needed to ad­dress al­co­hol abuse by stu­dents.

“This sit­u­a­tion was very trou­bling,” Meyer said. “While we have made progress ad­dress­ing un­der­age drink­ing, this was a sign that there is a lot of room for im­prove­ment.”

The univer­sity has taken mul­ti­ple steps to ad­dress stu­dent drink­ing, in­clud­ing the for­ma­tion in 2010 of a high-risk drink­ing ac­tion plan. Stud­ies show those ef­forts have had suc­cesses such as re­duc­ing the num­ber of stu­dents on cam­pus who drink al­co­hol.

De­spite those ef­forts, heavy al­co­hol con­sump­tion still per­sists. Meyer is call­ing on tav­erns and oth­ers in the Menomonie com­mu­nity to help re­duce that be­hav­ior.

The owner of Re­hab, Menomonie res­i­dent David Zem­pel, said he takes the is­suance of ci­ta­tions at his tav­ern on April 12 “very se­ri­ously” and has made changes — in­clud­ing adding work­ers to bet­ter check IDs, in­stalling a cam­era to mon­i­tor the area where IDs are checked and hir­ing a con­sult­ing ser­vice to ad­min­is­ter train­ing to bet­ter mon­i­tor IDs.

Un­der­age peo­ple who en­tered his bar that night pre­sented fake IDs, Zem­pel said, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine who was there legally. His em­ploy­ees dis­cov­ered three fake IDs be­fore po­lice ar­rived that night at the bar, he said, and they turn over about 300 fake IDs an­nu­ally to Menomonie po­lice.

“We didn’t know­ingly serve to un­der­age per­sons,” Zem­pel said, not­ing fake IDs are a prob­lem in the bar scene.

Zem­pel said he has reached out to Meyer and city of­fi­cials and hopes to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion at his bar through on­go­ing dia­logue.

Menomonie Mayor Randy Knaack called the sit­u­a­tion at Re­hab “an iso­lated in­ci­dent” and said the vast ma­jor­ity of tav­ern own­ers in the city abide by un­der­age reg­u­la­tions and work to pre­vent peo­ple younger than 21 from drink­ing al­co­hol at their es­tab­lish­ments.

Still, the April 12 in­ci­dent at Re­hab “cer­tainly got the at­ten­tion of the city,” Knaack said. City of­fi­cials plan to dis­cuss the mat­ter, he said, and may take ac­tion re­lated to it.

Chief Eric Atkin­son said po­lice are con­sid­er­ing en­force­ment op­tions against Re­hab and Zem­pel. Re­hab has passed pre­vi­ous al­co­hol com­pli­ance checks, Atkin­son said.

In ad­di­tion to Re­hab, Zem­pel owns The District Pub & Grill in Eau Claire, as well as Al­lur­ing Acres, a wedding venue in New Auburn.

Al­co­hol abuse by col­lege stu­dents is a time­honored tra­di­tion that oc­curs at schools across the coun­try. For most stu­dents, go­ing to col­lege rep­re­sents their first time away from their par­ents for an ex­tended pe­riod. That, com­bined with youth and lack of life ex­pe­ri­ences, some­times leads to risky be­hav­iors.

Na­tion­ally, more than 1,800 col­lege stu­dents be­tween ages 18 and 24 die an­nu­ally from al­co­hol-re­lated in­juries in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to the National In­sti­tute on Al­co­hol Abuse and Al­co­holism.

Like at UW-Stout, of­fi­cials at UW-Eau Claire have worked to ad­dress high-risk drink­ing by stu­dents and have made progress dur­ing the past cou­ple of decades, the univer­sity’s dean of stu­dents, Joseph Ab­hold, said. Changes regarding al­co­hol-re­lated poli­cies have in­volved ad­dress­ing ex­ces­sive al­co­hol use dur­ing the an­nual home­com­ing celebration, he said, and have in­cluded such actions as al­ter­ing that event’s pa­rade route and more proac­tively ad­dress­ing house par­ties.

The univer­sity works with stu­dents who vi­o­late a code of con­duct and links them to re­quired op­tions such as com­mu­nity ser­vice and al­co­hol ed­u­ca­tion, Ab­hold said. Last year was the first in which stu­dents hav­ing is­sues with al­co­hol watched a video about the topic and wrote a pa­per about it.

“It shows them it’s not just col­lege stu­dents who live in a neigh­bor­hood, but other peo­ple live there too,” Ab­hold said of the video.

Ab­hold ac­knowl­edged some stu­dents cause prob­lems be­cause of drunken be­hav­ior, but “most of our stu­dents are great mem­bers of this com­mu­nity. They do a lot of re­ally good things.”

On April 12, a Thurs­day, one UW-Stout stu­dent af­ter another en­tered the Re­hab bar. When city, univer­sity and Dunn County law en­force­ment of­fi­cers ar­rived there later that night af­ter re­ceiv­ing a tip about un­der­age al­co­hol sales, they found more than 45 peo­ple there younger than 21.

The crowd of un­der­age stu­dents there didn’t come as a sur­prise to those in Menomonie fa­mil­iar with the bar scene. The Re­hab is known as a place where un­der­age drinkers can con­gre­gate, they say. Peo­ple buy wrist­bands and wear them to the bar on Thurs­day nights, giv­ing them ac­cess to cheap beer and rail mixed drinks, sources say.

“That bar does have a rep­u­ta­tion with stu­dents for be­ing a party bar,” said Kirk­man, the UW-Stout as­sis­tant dean of stu­dents. “I’ve asked stu­dents how they know to go there if they are un­der­age, and they say ev­ery­body knows it. ... (The Re­hab) seems to be known as an un­der­age haven.”

Zem­pel dis­agreed, say­ing un­der­age drinkers “are not my nor­mal clien­tele.” He ac­knowl­edged some un­der­age drinkers fre­quent his tav­ern and said he “is tak­ing steps to com­bat that is­sue.” He said he of­fers drink spe­cials, but none af­ter mid­night.

Some Eau Claire tav­erns also ad­ver­tise drink spe­cials de­signed to ap­peal to stu­dents. On Wed­nes­day night, pa­trons en­joyed Blu­gold Night drink spe­cials at Pioneer Tav­ern. Nearby, The Pickle also is known for host­ing drink spe­cials that at­tract many UW-Eau Claire stu­dents.

Ab­hold and oth­ers said they would like to see the num­ber of bars tar­get­ing high-risk al­co­hol con­sump­tion re­duced, but do­ing so is dif­fi­cult.

“Any­time a bar opens early in the morn­ing or is heav­ily ad­ver­tis­ing cheap drink spe­cials and drink­ing con­tests ... and a bar fills up with heav­ily in­tox­i­cated peo­ple, it is very con­cern­ing,” he said.

Wis­con­sinites have a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion na­tion­ally for con­sum­ing co­pi­ous amounts of al­co­hol. And those in Eau Claire County drink more al­co­hol than the norm for the state, fig­ures show.

A break­down of the state’s 72 coun­ties shows at-risk drink­ing here is a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in caus­ing early death via drunken driv­ing-re­lated crashes and health prob­lems. Sta­tis­tics show peo­ple ages 40 to 60 who call the Badger State home drink more al­co­hol than most of their peers across the na­tion.

Re­cently, Eau Claire city of­fi­cials at­tempted to ad­dress al­co­hol abuse in a way that would have strength­ened po­lice au­thor­ity in cases of ex­ces­sive drink­ing. But UW-Eau Claire stu­dents and oth­ers ob­jected to the mea­sure to upgrade the city’s pub­lic good or­der or­di­nance, and on March 13 the City Coun­cil tabled ac­tion on that item to al­low fur­ther de­bate.

Such de­bate is oc­cur­ring in the form of dis­cus­sions among a group of a cou­ple of dozen peo­ple who make up the Ad Hoc Neigh­bor­hood Safety and Re­la­tions Task Force. The com­mit­tee was formed to con­tinue dis­cus­sions about al­co­hol abuse and re­sult­ing be­hav­iors in the wake of the tabling of the pub­lic good or­der or­di­nance change. Its mem­bers

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