HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WJTV) – At colleges and universities across the country, alcohol abuse among students has been a major topic of concern for school administrators. But over the last decade, the University of Southern Mississippi has had a steady decrease in alcohol related incidents.
It has almost been 10 years since the University of Southern Mississippi topped more than 100 alcohol related incidents in a given year.
From 2007 to 2008, USM had 115 total alcohol related incidents. There were 32 arrests made, and 83 instances where a citation was given or no action was taken.
Each year since then, the number of incidents has dropped precipitously. 2016 saw only 23 total incidents with just 9 arrests made and 18 citations given. That’s an 80% decrease.
Rusty Keyes, the Assistant Chief of University Police, says he believes education and risk management have played major roles in the decrease in incidents.
“Well our big tool was risk management. We meet with each and every individual group such as Greek Life, athletics, residents halls,” said Keyes. “We assign an officer to each residence hall and that includes Greek Life as well. They’re assigned to that building, and that’s their building so they get to know those kids, they get to talk to those kids and educate those kids.”
One of the ways USM has been able to educate student’s about alcohol is by holding training sessions for different organizations on campus.
“The start of every semester we host a risk management session for our students that are involved in the greek community that goes over everything from Title XI, to alcohol abuse ramifications to hazing,” said Dr. Denny Bubrig, the Assistance Vice President for Student Life. “And we make sure that not only our actives are aware of them, but also the new members. And so they have a good, broad-scoped sense of if you do decide to make this decision, here’s what some of the likely outcomes are.”
One of the more effective alcohol education programs at USM is the B.A.S.I.C.S program, or brief alcohol screening and intervention for college students.
Dr. Mike Madson has been running the program for USM since its inception in 2009. He says the goal of the program since day one has been to help student’s make better decisions.
“You know a lot of times, approaches are “Don’t drink,” “Drinking is bad,” or “You need to stop that,”. Whereas we know with college students that just doesn’t work,” said Madson. “So we tend to focus more on being smart, safe, when you are drinking. That’s really the goal of the basics program, is to help that student decide how they want to be smarter and safer when they do drink.”
Dr. Madson says anyone can attend the B.A.S.I.C.S program, but it is predominantly filled by students that have been involved in alcohol related incidents.
But since the B.A.S.I.C.S program started in 2009, it has been highly effective. In its first year alone, the number of alcohol related incidents dropped by over 50% at USM.
Dr. John Nelson, the Medical Director of the Emergency Department of Forrest General Hospital, says this decrease in alcohol related incidents at USM is consistent with what his department has seen over the last decade.
“Oh [it’s] very consistent with what we have seen in the college population here in Hattiesburg. We did see far more in the late 2008-9-10. And it has dropped off considerably with, I think, the alcohol policies on campus,” explained Nelson
And while USM has made progress, they’ll be the first to tell you there is more work to be done.
“We’re going to continue in that area of Risk Management, of our cop program which is community oriented policing,” said Keyes. “We’re going to continue partnering with other departments on campus to keep this thing rolling about education. Are we going to eradicate alcohol altogether? No. No that’s just not going to happen. But if we can save a life, by education and by teaching and deterrence then we’re going to do that and continue and we’ve been successful with that.”
According to Dr. Madson, USM has only had one student retake the basics course since its inception in 2009, which he says is a testament to the program’s effectiveness.
Compared to both the University of Mississippi and Mississippi state university, USM had the least alcohol related incidents from 2016 to 2017. Also in that stretch, USM had the lowest number of alcohol related incidents on campus since 2013, with just 23.