Coalition to propose strategic plan addressing high-risk alcohol use

A University-wide coalition is being formed to address high-risk alcohol use among undergraduates as a health, well-being and educational issue.

The coalition, made up mostly of students but also including faculty and staff, will gather information from a variety of sources over the next few months and produce a draft comprehensive strategic plan by May 2008.

"Everything is on the table," said Sanjeev Kulkarni, a professor of electrical engineering who will co-chair the group. "Our goal is to identify what can be done, what resources are needed to get those things done and how most effectively to address high-risk alcohol use."

Kulkarni, who has served as master of Butler College since 2004, will lead the group along with Agatha Offorjebe, a junior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology.

The coalition stems from meetings during the last academic year of the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board, a committee appointed by President Shirley M. Tilghman to follow up on the recommendations of its predecessor Task Force on Health and Well-Being and to provide ongoing advice on issues related to the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.

This fall, the board established a planning group that met for several weeks to define the goals for the alcohol coalition and create a roadmap for moving forward. The group, which was led by Gina Baral, director of health promotion and wellness services at University Health Services, presented its plan at the Nov. 16 meeting of the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board and received unanimous endorsement.

"In its final report, the Task Force on Health and Well-Being identified excessive and abusive use of alcohol as the single greatest threat to the health and well-being of undergraduates," said Robert Durkee, vice president and secretary, who co-chairs the board with Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life. "We hope that this new coalition, building on earlier initiatives and composed primarily of students, will take a comprehensive look at ways we can do a better job of addressing this set of issues."

Dickerson said, "The planning group did an excellent job of proposing goals for the coalition and recommending strategies for engaging a broad range of students in its deliberations. I hope students who have thoughts and suggestions will participate in the workshops that the coalition will be conducting early in the spring semester."

The planning group included five undergraduates, Anna Bialek, Daniel DeGeorge, Esther Lee, Offorjebe and William Scharf, and a graduate student, Tanya De Mello. It also included Kulkarni; Joshua Rabinowitz, assistant professor of chemistry and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics; Baral; Amy Campbell, special assistant to the vice president for campus life; Janet Finnie, interim director of University Health Services; Steven Healy, director of public safety; and Hilary Herbold, associate dean of undergraduate students.
This group will form the basis of the new coalition, along with five or six additional undergraduates. Nominations will be solicited from the Undergraduate Student Government and its Undergraduate Life Committee as well as the undergraduate student body as a whole. Those interested should contact Amy Campbell, who will be serving as project manager, at

"We hope the students on the committee will view this as an opportunity to lend a strong voice to what is a complex set of issues," Campbell said. "We want to support a robust social culture while seeking to eliminate dangerous and high-risk behaviors."

The coalition intends to carry forward the work of the planning group, seeking broad input as it looks at such issues as social attitudes and organizational structures that lead to high-risk drinking, accountability and enforcement policies, and education.

"High-risk drinking is a problem at almost every university," Kulkarni said. "It's not a problem that is unique to Princeton by any means. On the other hand, one of the areas that we're interested in looking at, among many, is whether there are attributes unique to Princeton -- for example, the culture, the academic/student life policies and procedures, the residential colleges, the eating clubs, the relationship with the town -- that will let us address issues in a way that's particular to Princeton. We're not going to change the culture across the board in the United States. The question is what we can do at Princeton to make it a healthier, safer, more productive place to be?"

The planning group has identified several specific goals it hopes the coalition can achieve:

  • Promote a culture in which undergraduate students who choose to drink alcohol do so responsibly in a safe social environment and make decisions about their use of alcohol free from unhealthy peer influence.
  • Promote the development of and encourage students to participate in social activities that are not centered around high-risk drinking.
  • Encourage students to develop healthy behaviors with respect to alcohol that will continue beyond their years at Princeton University.
  • Support policies and processes that hold individuals and student groups accountable for their actions with respect to alcohol use and that address problematic alcohol use consistently and effectively.
  • Foster a culture in which students treat both their academic and social lives with a high level of maturity, reflecting  high community standards.

In February, the coalition plans to hold a series of three or four workshops on different aspects of high-risk alcohol use that will involve large and diverse groups of students, faculty and staff. Workshop reports will be generated and synthesized into the coalition's comprehensive strategic plan.

Kulkarni, who was part of the effort to organize such workshops during the strategic planning process for the School of Engineering and Applied Science several years ago, said the method worked effectively as a means of gathering input from a broad range of constituents.

"It generates a lot of ideas that wouldn't emerge with just a group discussing the problem among themselves," he said. "And it provides opportunities for many people to participate."

The coalition is expected to present a draft strategic plan at the May 9 meeting of the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board.