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February 4, 2009
By Skyler Dillon
The next time someone offers a University of Nevada, Reno student a drink at a party, he or she may want to think twice before accepting: the BASICS program could be in store for that student.
BASICS, or Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students, corresponds with the University Police Services philosophy, with patrols exercising increased enforcement of underage drinking laws on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods. The program began during Spring 2008 semester as a response to an increasing number of students being at risk with high levels of intoxication along with complaints from residents living near the university about student conduct.
“We’ve had students wander onto freeway onramps or get assaulted by homeless people,” said Nevada graduate student Daniel Crump and BASICS coordinator. “It’s been a real safety problem.”
If a police officer cites a student for an alcohol violation, the student must meet with University graduate student Kristine King, the program specialist for underage drinking laws, who decides whether the cited student is a candidate for the BASICS program. Approximately 90 percent of the time, students are sanctioned to complete BASICS, which consists of two hour-long sessions allowing them to examine their own drinking patterns and the consequences those patterns have in their lives.
“When I refer a student to BASICS, a lot of them just have this look on their face like, ‘I hate you,’” King said, “but it’s better than the alternative in a lot of cases.”
Daniel Crump added, “Statistically, if you’re cited for an alcohol violation, you are more likely to not finish college; better choices now allow for a better future.”
In the first BASICS session, students list the pros and cons of drinking they have experienced, and Crump helps them decide how many drinks it takes to experience both the pros and cons. The student compares those numbers to the amount of drinks they have consumed during the past 30 days. This allows students to link their behavior with the consequences.
“It’s about just mirroring their behavior back to them so they can reflect on it,” Crump said.
Students also keep track of their drinking with self-monitoring cards. At the end of two weeks, they return for a final discussion with Crump, who goes over the cards with them and points out patterns of behavior. He asks them about the number of drinks they have consumed during the period and whether the behavior resulted in pros or cons.
Crump then assesses an online questionnaire that BASICS students submit at the end of the first session. The questionnaire reports a number of trends for the students including spending habits on alcohol, a caloric count for alcohol consumption, and a rating of a person’s drinking habits compared to other University students. The participants also get a chance to see what BAC (blood-alcohol content) levels really mean, and how their average BAC level compares with average levels of impairment.
“I’m not here to tell you what to do or how to do it,” Crump said. “I just show you the facts and ask ‘How do you feel about this?’”
By the end of spring semester this past May, the program reports indicated that 80 percent of students said they planned to change their drinking habits in some form.
“It’s successful because it’s nonjudgmental,” Crump said. “About 85 percent of students say in the feedback survey, ‘You were respectful; you didn’t lecture; it was just great education.’”
The program appears to be having a positive impact on the campus community. According to King, there were 109 students cited for alcohol violations in Spring 2008 and only 79 such citations during fall semester.
The majority of students cited for alcohol violations have been new, incoming freshmen, King said, which can serve as an educational tool.
“If we can get students to change their drinking habits three weeks into the school year, then students have time to rebound,” she said. “If you’re cited your last week here, the consequences have probably already caught up with you. You might have already failed classes or gotten into serious legal trouble.”
Crump hopes to continue reaching out to students in innovative ways, including sponsoring a variety of safe and sober activities for students starting in the Fall 2009 semester.
“I teach BASICS to every resident assistant at the beginning of the semester, and I’ve taught it to two fraternity houses,” Crump said. “We’re getting T-shirts and we even have a MySpace page.”
The free BASICS program is also open for self-referrals; students do not have to receive citations to go through the program. Crump hopes more people will take advantage of BASICS and help dispel some of the common misconceptions about drinking around campus.
“One red cup of Jungle Juice is not one drink — it’s more like three,” he says. “And we want people to know this so they can make better choices. We are still out there; and there will still be increased enforcement.”
King says the program’s intent is not to catch as many people as it can. “We aren’t trying to be the big, bad wolf,” she says. “It’s about keeping people safe and giving them tools to make better choices in the future.”
For program details or to talk to a BASICS staff member, please call (775) 784-4388.