It has been three years since my first quarter at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and as I enter my final year here in sunny Isla Vista, what I remember of AlcoholEdu and the mandatory GauchoFYI program from early on has largely been reduced to a small, yellow, plastic card hanging off the end of my key ring. The card reads: “Just call 911,” and includes a handy list of symptoms for alcohol and drug poisoning printed on the backside along with a generous offer for free cinnabread at Woodstocks.
So, aside from all the free cinnabread, was it all for naught?
Certainly not. Despite some lost tidbits of information from the two-hour seminar, the value of the required alcohol, drugs, and sex program has not been overlooked, and I firmly support the continuation of online AlcoholEdu and GauchoFYI for incoming students.
The first year of college is fun, but it is also a transition phase. Often characterized by newfound independence, new people, and previously unexplored situations, for many, freshman year can also be understandably overwhelming. So where does AlcoholEdu factor into all of this? In short, it creates invaluable self-awareness as well as an understanding of how UCSB addresses its infamous party-school reputation.
AlcoholEdu is exactly what it sounds like — it is an education. It is not a time-consuming attempt at purging safe-sex, alcohol, and drugs from the lives of every college Freshman, but rather an attempt to paint a broader picture of alcohol and drugs in the context of a university campus. AlcoholEdu and GauchoFYI do not simply discuss, for instance, peer pressure, but the kind of peer pressure that comes from trying to fit in with new roommates or classmates.
GauchoFYI is designed to correct misconceptions about drugs, alcohol, and sex. It answers questions students are sometimes afraid to ask, such as, “Will I automatically be arrested if I sit on the curb,” or, “Will I get in trouble if I call a CSO while inebriated?” The program touches upon everything from guarding your plastic cup at crowded parties to what is considered to be consensual sex.
Holding the program itself without the intention of preventing alcohol, sex, and drugs altogether puts UCSB in the precarious position of acknowledging that these things happen in and around campus, but the approach is more suited for students and more effective overall than trying to force a certain lifestyle on the student body.
The Drug and Alcohol program takes an approach that is preferable to denying the accessibility to substances on or around a college campus. In terms of drugs and alcohol, the program is as much about discouraging legal and illegal substance abuse as it is about student safety and encouraging smarter choices.
On the other hand, Haven, the corresponding sexual assault education program, is absolutely about prevention.
Coupled with online AlcoholEdu, Haven holds incoming students accountable for their own safety by giving them tangible advice, while aiming to put a hard stop to sexual assaults on and around campus. The interactive quality of the program especially works to generate awareness by simulating, for instance, scenarios in which students are tasked with aiding a friend who has had too much to drink at a party.
The necessity of sexual education in a college environment cannot be emphasized enough, and the program is just one step of many that addresses an apparent and troubling issue on university campuses.
The overall effectiveness of AlcoholEdu and GauchoFYI may take a hit from critics if it is being discussed in terms of lasting impressions and/or turning Isla Vista into a drug and alcohol-free zone.
However, without AlcoholEdu and GauchoFYI in place, I suspect that incoming freshmen would have a much harder time finding their footing. Not every student drinks and parties, but awareness is important nonetheless. AlcoholEdu can only serve as a guide for students approaching their exciting college years, not as a way to baby young adults through their undergraduate experience.
In the end, AlcoholEdu and GauchFYI put students in the drivers’ seat of their college social life. It reaffirms their independence, without stifling it, by holding them responsible for their actions.