The results of last spring’s NESCAC-wide alcohol and drug use survey, which were released to College officials last week, show that the drinking habits of Bowdoin students fall in line with peer schools, though students at the College are noticeably more proactive when it comes to calling for help in alcohol-related emergencies.
Nine of the 11 NESCAC schools participated in the survey, which was distributed to about 20,000 students and designed with the intent of better understanding alcohol and drug use on each campus.
Wesleyan did not participate because they have been working on a similar program with Dartmouth, and did not wish to overburden their students with surveys, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster said last spring.
Amherst College opted out due to staffing changes in the Office of the Dean of Students at the time the survey was released.
All Bowdoin students who were enrolled last spring were asked to participate, and the survey results are based off of 1,413 responses from all class years. The response rate was 79 percent.
“It was interesting to see where Bowdoin stood vis-à-vis our peers,” said Foster, “and that would be generally middle of the pack, although there are a few areas where we stand out very positively.
Ninety-three percent of students reported feeling that Bowdoin’s alcohol policy encourages getting help from security or other staff members, compared to only 77 percent at peer schools.
“One of our greatest strengths is our relationship with security,” said Meadow Davis, associate director of student affairs. “One of the things that the survey showed was how students feel so comfortable and safe with security and feel like they will enforce the laws and help them figure out situations where alcohol emergencies are involved.”
Eighty-four percent of all respondents and 83 percent of Bowdoin students reported that they started drinking before their 19th birthday, suggesting that many students consume alcohol before they enter college.
Forty-two percent of students said they drank occasionally, and 41 percent drank often, meaning that 17 percent of students refrain from drinking entirely.
“It certainly makes it clear that alcohol use is a part of social life on our campus and other college campuses,” Foster said. “I’d say that for most students, drinking alcohol occurs before one comes to college, and for a number of students is a pattern of behavior that has already developed, that we inherit. That’s challenging.”
Foster stressed that the survey will be an important tool for educating Bowdoin students about how to behave responsible for themselves and others when alcohol is involved.
“I don’t think this is a problem we can solve. I think it’s a problem where you can move the needle,” Foster said. “I think we would be irresponsible if we didn’t do everything we could to try to move the needle and work on this problem. So, part of this survey and part of why we’re giving this out is to really shine the light on this so we can say, as a community, what is it really that we’d like to do.”
Students had various explanations for why they chose to drink. 33 percent occasionally drank to reduce stress, and 34 percent sometimes drank because they thought it helped them flirt.
Nineteen percent of students responded that they have been criticized for drinking too heavily.
This survey follows a similar survey administered by Bowdoin in the spring of 2010, which looked at similar trends. The results of the 2010 survey resulted in a number of changes, including the creation of the Alcohol Team, the initiation of the “Choices” program, and the creation of a new position, Coordinator of Health Education.